What is a Pulse Oximeter: Should I Buy One? (+Best Brands)

What is a pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter is an electronic noninvasive and painless device that measures your oxygen saturation level, or the oxygen transported in your blood cells.

Pulse Oximeter Use

If you have a known lung or heart disease, your doctor may use a pulse oximeter in conjunction with a heart monitor. 

A pulse oximeter may also be used to monitor any condition that can affect blood oxygen levels. These conditions include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung cancer
  • Anemia
  • Heart attack or heart failure
  • Congenital heart defects

Can A Pulse Oximeter Detect Coronavirus?

One of the scariest symptoms of the coronavirus is shortness of breath. 

But would you recognize emergency-level shortness of breath if you experienced it? Enters Pulse oximeters, a small electronic device that clips onto a finger and measures the saturation of oxygen carried in the red blood cells.

But, can a pulse oximeter help detect coronavirus?

Richard Levitan, MD, an emergency physician in Littleton, New Hampshire, says “for those who suspect or know they have COVID-19 a pulse oximeter may be a way to catch a drop in blood oxygen before it poses a severe health hazard.”

However, pulse oximetry cannot be used to diagnose COVID-19 (only a laboratory test can do so), it can be helpful in monitoring a patient who’s already been diagnosed or to provide early warning signs of breathing problems associated with Covid-19 pneumonia.

Although they are usually bought online or in drugstores, they are hard to find at the moment. They are one of the products to sold-out during the coronavirus pandemic as people are buying them for their safety.

Your current best bet is to check Amazon and other websites for available pulse oximeters. (Check out our best choices below)


Pulse oximeters come in different types, so it is good to know which one works best for you.

Not all pulse oximeters sold over the counter are medical grade.

Before you buy a pulse oximeter, consult your doctor if it’s worth it. There are topical options and also prescribed ones. The latter is more accurate than the topical options. 

Public figures who have tested positive for COVID-19, like CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Bravo’s Andy Cohen, use pulse oximeters to monitor their oxygen levels and lung function.

Pulse Oximeter Tips

Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend getting a pulse oximeter device that you can use at home.

  1. When you measure your oxygen saturation at home, it is advisable to record your readings and teach yourself what to do if they fall below normal levels. 
  2. Don’t use it around the clock for continuous monitoring, only when needed. As a portable home health device, it is always a good idea to take it with you so that you can compare the readings with the readings that healthcare professionals receive with their devices.
  3. There is no need to calibrate the pulse oximeter to make sure it is accurate, but it should be calibrated at least once a week or twice a month. 
  4. In patients with very dark skin, such as people with diabetes or high blood pressure, the pulse oximeter may be less precise. If it falls steadily into the low 90s, there is no reason to contact the doctor. 

Where your blood oxygen level should fall?

A normal blood oxygen reading would be between 96 and 100 percent, according to Sharon Chekijian, MD MPH, an emergency medicine doctor with Yale Medicine.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lowers that by 1%, anything between 95-100% is within healthy levels, and anything under 94% should be evaluated by your medical professional.

Anything under 90 is considered a “clinical emergency” per the WHO and should be treated urgently. The Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan has seen coronavirus patients with measurements as low as 50 percent.

Best Pulse Oximeter to Buy

Here are the best ones you can get right now.

MightySat® Fingertip Pulse Oximeter with Bluetooth LE, RRp, & PVi

This oximeter is a little bit on the pricey side but it uses hospital-grade technology. Bluetooth makes it easy to track and store your measurements, helps assess changes in breathing rate, breathing effort, hydration, or more!

FORA SpO2 Bluetooth 4.0 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

FORA O2 is one of the Best Pulse Oximeters Recommended by New York Magazine!

Facelake ® FL400 Pulse Oximeter

Facelake FL400 Pulse Oximeter provides an accurate way to check your pulse rates and SPO2 (blood oxygen saturation levels) quickly for the fraction of the price from the two other options above.

Final Thoughts

While shortness of breath and low oxygen levels can be signs of COVID 19 infection, a pulse oximeter may only be used to confirm normal oxygen levels in healthy people.

If your pulse oximeter shows at home that your blood oxygen level is normal, that does not necessarily mean that you do not have the virus. However, this inexpensive home device may help detect trouble early so it’s a good idea to have one on hand.