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Best Pulse Oximeter Buying Guide

by Jessica Hegg October 28, 2016

Finger Pulse Oximeter by Vive

Pop quiz!!

Which is the best pulse oximeter for you?

A. Finger Pulse Oximeter 
B. Wrist Band Oximeter 
C. Handheld Pulse Oximeter
D. I don't know, I must keep reading! 

3 Best Pulse Oximeter Styles:

Chances are you're not sure which pulse oximeter you should be using to monitor your SpO2 readings.

Not to worry, we've got your answer right here

#1 Finger Pulse Oximeter

Finger Pulse Oximeter

  • Top Selling: The fingertip pulse oximeter is commonly purchased by physicians, caregivers, and patients themselves.
  • Portable Design: small, compact, design that is ideal for monitoring oxygen saturation on the go.
  • Ease of Use: The simple design gives straight-forward readings in just seconds time. LED screen displays, clear, easy to read results
  • Customizable Settings: Ability to adjust settings and alarms to sounds when abnormal readings occur
  • Accuracy: Very accurate. Sensor probe located on finger tip pad to produce most accurate readings
  • Athletic Use: Quick and easy way to get pulse rate or oxygen saturation results immediately following athletic activity.

    #2 Wrist Band Pulse Oximeter

    Wrist Band Pulse Oximeter

    • Continuous Pulse Oximetry: Ongoing monitoring of oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Good for sleep monitoring
    • Accuracy: Reliable results, but does not utilize a fingertip probe for collecting oxygen saturation.  This can cause slight discrepancies between your monitor and doctors.
    • Bluetooth Compatibility: Wrist monitor comes with Bluetooth capabilities that allow you to record and store data. Great for comparing & identifying trends or changes between your daily statistics
    • Ease to Read: LED Screen displays, clear, easy to read results

    #3 Handheld Pulse Oximeter

    Handheld Pulse Oximeter

    • Continuous Pulse Oximetry: Allows for continuous monitoring, but not ideal for sleep monitoring due to large size and multiple parts.
    • Easy to Read: Typically have larger screens which display the results clearly.
    • Large in size: Handheld pulse oximeters are fairly large in size and are not good for travel and require multiple cords to connect the monitor to the sensor.
    • More Complex: Depending on the model, these oximeters have multiple display screens that give more in-depth results and are typically utilized by medical professionals. 
    • Accuracy: Reliable results from fingertip sensor probe
    • Memory: Stores previous readings.  Good for tracking and monitoring changes in oxygen saturation or pulse

    So which pulse oximeter do we recommend for you?

    #1 Finger Pulse Oximeter - We highly recommend this style for those who need instant and accurate readings throughout the day, regardless of location.

    #2 Wrist Band Pulse Oximeter - Recommended for continuous monitoring while sleeping or performing low impact exercise.

    #3 Handheld Pulse Oximeter - We typically recommend the use of these models to medical professionals.  Often times more additional, sophisticated, information is provided that may require further interpretation. 

    Regardless of the style you chose, consistent monitoring is key. Stick with the best style for you and start keeping tabs on your health today!

    Most Important Features to Look for:

    Easy to Read and Use

    Best finger pulse oximeter features

    Since most likely, you'll be the one monitoring SpO 2, an easy to read display is necessary. Simple designs are the best and most user-friendly.

    Look for a pulse oximeter that provides you with a well-lit OLED display screen equipped with variable display options for easy to read results, regardless of which hand your measurement is being taken on. Some models will even present your pulse and spO2 graphically for simple interpretation.


    Finger pulse oximeter worn around neck

    A well-developed device will have a portable design.  Look for a monitor that is small and compact that doesn't require any additional wires, cords, or parts. This makes it easier to check your oxygen levels inconspicuously when at work or out to dinner.

    This is also ideal when you need your readings immediately. Rather than having to live your life around SpO2 monitoring, you won't have to fuss to set up the monitor or rush to find a power source. Readings should be easy to take, especially since low oxygen levels simply cannot wait. 

    Pulse oximeter in a pouch

    Additional features, like a lanyard or traveling case, are an added bonus. These make it easy to store, travel, and carry anywhere.  If you come across a model like this, don't hesitate to snatch it up quick!

    Quick and Accurate

    Vest finger pulse oximeter by vive

    I don't know anyone who doesn't want quick results and accuracy! This one may be obvious, but it's so crucial... we couldn't leave it out.

    It can be hard to sit still while a machine calculates your pulse rate and SpO2, and since the accuracy of these measurements depends on stillness, it is important to find an oximeter that can provide almost instant readings.

    Affordable Price

    SpO2 monitor by vive

    We know that keeping track of your health can really add up fast.  A cost effective device is just as important as any other feature.

    High-End vs. Cheap Pulse Oximeters

    High-end models like Nellcor Oximax ring up at just under $500, and while these types do provide incredible accuracy, they are intended for use in clinical settings and are not made for portability. Often times these devices can be confusing to use or understand the results.

    Cheap pulse oximeters can go for as little as $13, but remember, these low price models tend to be missing key attributes like FDA approval. 

    Instead of going for a cheap pulse oximeter or high-end, look for one right in the middle. A model that is around the $30-$40 range for personal home use.These models will consist of all the important features that give you reliable results, but won't break the bank! 

    Oxygen Saturation Overview:

    What is Pulse Oximetry?

    Pulse oximetry is a test that is used to identify the level of oxygen in your blood, or how well the oxygen is moving through the parts of your body. Results are given as % 

    • Normal oxygen saturations levels range from 95%-100%
    • Low spO2 levels of 92%, or less, can lead to Hypoxia -- a dangerous condition in which vital organs are not getting enough oxygen

    hypoxia and brain function chart Worried your oxygen levels are low? Buy and monitor your readings today!

    What is an Oximeter & How Does it Work?

    A pulse oximeter detects oxygenated hemoglobin as a percentage of total hemoglobin in the body by passing two pulses of light through a fingertip to a photodetector. The difference in absorption between the two wavelengths shows how much oxygen the arteries have absorbed, and is displayed on-screen as a percentage out of 100. In addition to this measurement (your SpO2), the oximeter also provides you with your pulse rate (the number of times your heart beats per minute).

    Ways to use your pulse oximeter:

    Setting Goals

    Great for self-management.  Finger pulse oximeters can be used to monitor oxygen saturation levels and determine if you are meeting goals set by your doctor. If not, you are able to adjust accordingly.

    Identifying Activity Level

    Often our oxygen or pulse levels are manipulated by the amount of energy you exert. If you're looking to get moving, but are worried about your readings, a pulse ox can help you judge your oxygen flow and allow you to adjust, and in turn, improve your levels.

    Monitoring Existing Conditions

    Low levels of oxygen saturation throughout your body are often caused by existing medical conditions. If you know you are at risk for low spO2 levels, having an oximeter on hand will allow you to spot check your measurements at any time; and avoid damage to vital parts of your body. Click here to understand what your oxygen saturation says about you.

    Common conditions that lead to low oxygen levels: asthma, anemia, sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as other cardiovascular and respiratory issues.

    Sports and Pulse Monitoring

    Athletes and exercise enthusiasts can see how their heart is performing during cardiovascular activity, using this handy device as a means to monitor athletic performance and ensuring that their exercise is both safe and effective.

    target heart rate chart Aviation Monitoring

    Pulse oximeters are also very popular among pilots (and, to a lesser extent, mountain climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts) as they allow them to monitor their oxygen levels at extreme heights. It is incredibly important for pilots to know their SpO2 so that they can determine whether or not they require supplemental oxygen during the flight


    Click here to get the best finger pulse oximeter for sports and aviation monitoring!

    Other Styles of Pulse Oximeters:

    • Pediatric Pulse Oximeter
    These are designed to take a pulse and oxygen saturation reading on babies and young children.  They work in the same fashion as finger pulse oximeters, just on a smaller scale to ensure accurate results. Some pediatric units do measure around a newborn’s foot, while others measure at the fingertip but with much small clip.
    • Wrist-Sensor Pulse Oximeter

    Wireless design with the pulse and oxygen sensor located on the wrist.  These are great for continuous monitoring but readings are not as accurate because of sensor location. Wrist oximeters are better used as a gauge.

    • Tabletops Pulse Oximeter
    Commonly used in hospital settings for continuous monitoring.  These; heavy duty, pulse oximeters are equipped with pulse strength graph along with pulse and fault indicators to give more elaborate readings.

    Deciding on the Best Pulse Oximeter...

    While the science behind a pulse oximeter may sound difficult or confusing, using one shouldn’t be. You’ll want to select a model that is intuitively designed to cater to your specific needs. 

    So which one will it be? This time...I'll leave the answer up to you :)

    A. Finger Pulse Oximeter

    B. Wrist Band Pulse Oximeter

    C. Handheld Pulse Oximeter

    Click here to find the top 5 oximeters for home use

    Jessica Hegg
    Jessica Hegg

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