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Pulse Oximetry FAQ

Posted by FitTrack Australia on

Where can I place the pulse oximeter probe?

The pulse oximeter probe can be placed on extremities including a finger, toe or earlobe. The probe should fit comfortably, not stretched over a large digit. When placed on a finger, the nail should be facing upwards. Statistically, the right hand middle finger is shown to supply slightly more accurate readings.

Can skin colour affect pulse oximeter readings?

In short, yes. Although a pulse oximeter’s heart rate monitoring function is not affected by skin colour, it can give less accurate blood-oxygen SpO2 readings when used on people with darker skin. To determine SpO2 levels, these devices rely on measuring light absorption through the skin. Darker pigmented skin can hinder the light signal, resulting in inaccurate SpO2 readings. Despite this however, pulse oximeter devices are still valuable tools for people with more pigmented skin. Experts recommend knowing your normal levels, from which changes can still easily be identified.

Skin colour can affect pulse oximeter readings

How can I be sure my pulse oximeter is accurate?

Pulse oximeter accuracy depends on multiple factors.Typically, devices with the highest accuracy are only those that are TGA approved, such as the iHealth AIR Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter, or the FDA approved Jumper JPD-500D Fingertip Pulse Oximeter. These pulse oximeters undergo clinical testing to confirm their accuracy and are trusted by medical professionals, unlike many other devices sold over the counter.

The accuracy of an oximeter reading can also be affected by skin pigmentation, skin thickness, ambient lighting hitting the sensor, movement during reading, tattoos, wearing nail polish and poor circulation/cold hands. When using a pulse oximeter, always make sure to fit the probe properly onto a clean and warm finger, toe or earlobe and sit still while awaiting the result. Consult your device’s manual or see some more tips for an accurate reading here: “How To Use A Pulse Oximeter?”

Always consult with your doctor as to what your normal readings should be when using a pulse oximeter at home.

What do my SpO2 readings mean? 

A person’s SpO2 reading is an indicator of how well their body distributes oxygen.

  • A normal SpO2 reading is typically between 95% and 100%.
  • A low SpO2 reading is less than 95%.

Low SpO2 levels can be a sign of hypoxia - indicating insufficient amounts of oxygen are reaching the cells, tissues and organs. Covid-19 can be one cause for hypoxia (or silent hypoxia - without symptoms.) However, in other respiratory diseases such as COPD, these ranges may not apply. For example, it isn’t uncommon for people with severe COPD to maintain their SpO2 levels between 88 to 92 percent. Always consult your doctor as to what levels are normal for you individually.

SpO2 and pulse measurements on a pulse oximeter

When should I be worried about my SpO2 levels?

Monitoring the “trend” is important: a reading that is borderline 95% and falling is more concerning than one that is borderline 95% and stable or rising. A drop in oxygen saturation of 3% or more upon exertion is considered abnormal and should prompt further assessment.

For people with or testing for covid-19, a pulse oximeter reading of 92% or lower is one defining feature of “severe” infection - requiring urgent medical attention. Depending on your own normal range, a reading of 93-94% may indicate “moderate” infection of covid-19.

A pulse oximeter reading is part of a wider assessment of your overall health. If you are experiencing other symptoms - such as shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, headache or rapid heartbeat, immediately seek medical assistance.

What does the Perfusion Index reading mean?

Perfusion index (Pi) is the ratio of pulsing blood to non-pulsing blood flow at the test site, and is used to indicate the strength of the blood flow around your body.

Are pulse oximeters dangerous?

When used correctly, no. Pulse oximetry is a safe, pain free and fast test. However, it is good to remember that any medical device used without medical supervision can be potentially dangerous - incorrect usage or incorrect evaluation of the readings can lead to untreated health conditions. Likewise, a concerning indication on the pulse oximeter should not panic you, if you do not have any clinical symptoms. It can just be the result of an inaccurate measurement!

What are the risks of buying a cheap pulse oximeter? 

Unfortunately, most cheap pulse oximeters on the market are not clinically tested and validated and should be avoided. This means there is a higher chance of inaccurate measurements - resulting in either false alarms or unnoticed medical conditions. The real question is, “Am I willing to risk my health for the sake of a cheap, non TGA approved device?” Studies conducted in the US and UK showed that some cheaper devices sold to consumers without regulatory approval were significantly less accurate than approved devices. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, and pulse oximeters are no different.

How can I trust my pulse oximeter readings? 

The best way to have confidence in your pulse ox readings is to use a device that is trusted by medical professionals. Only TGA/FDA approved pulse oximeters such as the iHealth Air PO3M are clinically tested and validated. These devices are put through multiple testing phases to achieve the best functionality and highest accuracy. To ensure trustworthy readings, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on correct use of the pulse oximeter. Factors that can affect the outcome of SpO2 readings include skin colour, movement and hand temperature.

Can the iHealth AIR Pulse Oximeter give accurate readings for those suffering with Atrial Fibrillation?

Yes - the iHealth AIR Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a medical grade device that has proven to measure SpO2 levels accurately in people suffering from Atrial Fibrillation. Pulse oximeters that are not medical grade are usually unable to obtain a reading in patients with cardiac arrhythmias such as AFib. When compared with cheaper oximeters, customers who have used the iHealth AIR PO3M to help monitor AFib have noted it surpasses all others in performance and accuracy.

Can the iHealth AIR Pulse Oximeter give accurate readings for those suffering with COPD?

Yes - the iHealth AIR Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is a medical grade device that has proven to measure SpO2 levels accurately in people suffering from COPD. People who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease usually need to measure their SpO2 on a regular basis. While cheaper, non medical grade oximeters may give inaccurate readings (running the risk of delayed treatment for a COPD attack,) the iHealth AIR PO3M has proven to pull its weight when compared to the readings given by expensive oximeters used in hospital settings. Customers who have used the iHealth AIR PO3M to help monitor COPD have noted it surpasses all others in performance and accuracy.

What should I do if my SpO2 drops below 94%?

Oxygen concentrations between 91% and 95% indicate a possible medical problem. If this happens, contact your doctor immediately and continue to monitor other symptoms, calling triple zero (000) if you experience:

  • severe and sudden shortness of breath
  • shortness of breath when at rest
  • severe shortness of breath that worsens during physical activity

If your SpO2 drops below 90%, call triple zero (000.) This is considered a medical emergency and immediate medical help is required.

Some people with chronic respiratory conditions may have a normal SpO2 level that is usually considered low for other people. Always consult with your doctor as to what your normal levels should be.

Does nail polish interfere with pulse oximeter readings?

Yes, nail polish and artificial nails can interfere with pulse ox readings. To determine SpO2 levels, these devices rely on measuring light absorption through the skin. Coloured nail polish and artificial nails can hinder the light signal, resulting in inaccurate SpO2 readings. To attain the most accurate results possible, it is recommended to remove nail polish and artificial nails before using a pulse oximeter probe on your finger.

Nail polish is one of the factors that can cause inaccurate pulse oximeter readings

Can you use a pulse oximeter on a child?

Children can have their pulse and SpO2 measured using a paediatric pulse oximeter, such as the FDA approved Jumper JPD-500H. Paediatric pulse oximeters are more compact and better suited to the hands and fingers of children. Their specific design allows accurate readings to be taken on small patients. The iHealth Air PO3M is designed with a larger probe, and is suitable for people 16 years and over. Always consult the manual and product specifications of your device to ensure who it can be used on.

Children can use paediatric pulse oximeters to see their pulse and SpO2 levels

Can a pulse oximeter monitor COVID-19 at home?

Oximetry has been identified as an important element in providing home care for covid-19

patients and monitoring any escalation in symptoms. Since COVID-19 directly affects the lungs and other respiratory functions, a pulse oximeter can quickly identify if your body is struggling to distribute oxygen efficiently. Many people have chosen to use a pulse oximeter at home under their doctor’s care to monitor their COVID-19 status. The only devices trusted by medical professionals are those that are clinically tested and TGA/FDA approved, such as the iHealth AIR Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter.

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Watch band great, perfect for withings watch. Customer service outstanding with clear communication and excellent follow up. Thankyou

Thank you very much for taking time to review the Genuine Leather watchbands for Withings. Thank you also for the feedback on FitTrack Australia's customer service and communication.

Accurate & Reliable

Had admission to hospital with exacerbated COPD during the past week. I measured my oxygen sats on my new oximeter ( purchased one week prior to admission)and the measurements were precisely the same as the measurements taken by the nurses using the hospital oximeter every time. My phone recorded the measurements and I was able to show the doctors /nurses the trends with comments, recording details of what I was doing at the time of each reading. That is not an option while using the hospital equipment. They rely on manual entries which are sometimes overlooked, not entered or inaccurate.

Thank you so much for the time you've taken to provide a very meaningful review of the iHealth AIR Pulse Oximeter. It is great to hear how practical and useful the ability to sync readings to the iHealth MyVitals app on the phone and have a record over time as opposed to manually recorded spot readings. It is no surprise that the measurements were in line with the hospital's pulse oximeter readings, as the iHealth AIR is clinically validated (independently tested) and is deemed a medical grade pulse oximeter. We really appreciate the excellent review, and we hope that you are feeling better now!

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This is a great and easy to use Fingertip Pulse Oximeter. It's casing is strong and it comes with a good carry pouch and cord. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Thank you for taking the time to give that great review on the Jumper Medical JPD-500D fingertip pulse oximeter. It certainly punches above its weight in terms of build quality, reliability and accuracy.

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I'm very impressed with the Jumper JPD-HA300 Compact Blood Pressure Monitor, it works just great!!!

Thank you very much for taking the time to review the Jumper JPD-HA300 Blood Pressure Monitor. It's a high quality and yet affordable BPM, that punches above its weight!


I have found this Oximeter easy to use and it seems to perform well so far. I have only had it for a couple of weeks. I am hoping it will help friends and family who are at risk of severe COVID and I hope it will continue to perform well for a long time.

Thank you so much for taking the time to review the iHealth AIR Wireless Fingertip Pulse Oximeter. As a medical grade TGA approved pulse oximeter you can have peace of mind that it is a high quality blood oxygen saturation monitor as is trusted by doctors and medical professionals throughout Australia.