Pulse oximeter and children, how to use it correctly

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With the Covid-19 emergency, many families have decided to buy an oximeter to keep at home, as also recommended by the Del Paesena Society of Pneumology and the Del Paesena Society of General Medicine. This is a small tool that can be very useful for managing patients with Sars-Cov-2 infection or if contagion is suspected. In fact, we know that Covid-19 can often be accompanied by one pneumonia, not always easy to recognize, especially if you are in home isolation. For this reason, having an oximeter in your home can be useful for monitor the situation and to communicate to the doctor any abnormal values.

This instrument can be used by young and old alike, but pay attention to the type of oximeter to use. Let's see what the oximeter is, how it works and how to use it in children with the help of Dr. George Cremona, head of the Pneumology and Respiratory Pathophysiology Service at the IRCCS San Raffaele Hospital in our city.

In this article

  • what the oximeter measures
  • when it is useful to use it
  • how to use it correctly
  • what factors can influence the result
  • read the result
  • which oximeter to choose
  • how much
  • Does the oximeter cause damage?

What the oximeter measures

The oximeter measures the amount of oxygen present in the blood through the emission of light radiations of different wavelengths. More precisely, "the oximeter measures how red the blood is because the color depends on the amount of oxygen it contains. The pigment that colors the blood when it is full of oxygen becomes more red, while when there is less oxygen it tends to become more purplish" explains Dr. Cremona.

The measurement takes place simply and above all painless.

The oximeter that we can all buy in pharmacies or online looks like a small clothespin or pliers to insert your finger into. The display placed in the upper part following the measurement, which lasts just a few seconds, will indicate:

  • the percentage of saturation;
  • heart rate.

When it is useful to use it

"The use of the oximeter in case of Covid-19 infection can be very useful especially if we are in the presence of respiratory symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath. In these cases the measurement can be useful to check if there is an alteration in the oxygenation of the blood"explains Cremona.

But be careful if fever is among the symptoms! As the doctor explains, "the fever, which usually occurs with the classic chills, could cause peripheral vasoconstriction and thus affect the measurement giving wrong results".

Knowing the trend of oxygen saturation is not only useful for Covid-19, but also to check the status of other pathologies among which:

  • lung diseases such as pneumonia (even non-Covid-19);
  • heart disease;
  • asthma

How to use it correctly

The measurement, as already mentioned, is really simple. Just turn on the oximeter, insert your finger all the way and then wait. In principle, the same recommendations apply to both children and adults for using the oximeter correctly:

  • place your finger all the way;
  • apply the sensor correctly;
  • be still and at rest.

If we see low values, before worrying, let's make sure that the finger is positioned correctly and that the baby does not move and is relaxed. So, moms and dads, if your child has been running, jumping, or exercising, allow some time before using the oximeter.

Another important suggestion indicated by prof. Cremona to obtain a reliable result is to "make sure you have the warm hands and measure the saturation on all fingers of both hands, taking the highest value as a reference. "In this way we can be more sure of the result.

What factors can affect the result

The oximeter is really easy to use, but beware, there may be some conditions in which the result obtained can be considered unreliable.

"The result depends a lot on how much blood gets to the finger. If there are any situations in which we have poor circulation our instrument may not work properly ".

Among the situations listed by Dr. Cremona we find:

  • the cold (that's why the advice to warm the baby's hands);
  • low blood pressure;
  • significant anemia;
  • the movement of the hand during the measurement;
  • the presence of polish on the nails.


If you have followed all the indications, then it is time to interpret the result that will appear on the display.

Read the result

Let's try to understand now how to read the oximeter result. The saturation values ​​considered normal are between 95 and 99%. "The values ​​- explains Dr. Cremona - also vary a little according to age, let's say that in a child the value should not fall below 94%".

If the value measured by the oximeter is lower, we are in a situation of hypoxia what can be:

  • dear 91-94%
  • average 86-90%
  • severe if 85% or less.

The measurement, let us remember, must be done carefully above all because, as Cremona recalls, "if the procedures for the measurement are not followed correctly, the oximeter becomes more a cause of anxiety than a useful tool".

Which oximeter to choose

The choice of the oximeter must be made on the basis of theage of who will use it. In fact, for adults and children over 12 years it will be enough to buy a normal oximeter that can be found in pharmacies or online, while for children from the 2 12 years the pediatric oximeter is used to be applied to the finger of the hand. Finally, in the infants and young children under two years of age you use the oximeter with strap to be applied to a finger and toe, but here the price goes up considerably and we must consider that small children also move a lot, so the measurement could be more difficult.

If you have a normal oximeter at home and you want to measure the saturation of a child (over 5/6 years old) you can try, but the result is not guaranteed. It is therefore better to rely on the pediatric oximeter if there is a need to carry out the measurement.

An important precaution is to make sure the oximeter carry the CE or FDA mark to be sure of the reliability of the instrument.

How much

Unfortunately, with the health emergency the sales of these devices have skyrocketed and consequently also the price has gone up. An oximeter for adults and children (2-12 years) costs between the 30 and the 60 euro, while the price rises considerably if we want to buy an oximeter for babies and children up to two years.

Does the oximeter cause damage?

Absolutely not, parents can rest assured, the use of the oximeter is safe and has no contraindications in either adults or children.

  • coronavirus
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