Pulse oximeters are an unlikely home health essential. The device checks vital statistics like blood oxygen levels, heart rate, and blood pressure, and while these numbers may not mean much to the general public, they help medical professionals gain a better understanding of your overall health, especially during this pandemic. In fact, doctors started recommending patients purchase pulse oximeters to track coronavirus symptoms earlier this spring.
A popular op-ed for The New York Times written by emergency physician Richard Levitan, MD revealed that critically ill COVID-19 patients often arrived at the hospital with dangerously low oxygen levels—an issue that using a pulse oximeter could help prevent. Because the at-home device screens for low oxygen levels, which is an early warning sign of illnesses like pneumonia, it gives patients better insight on when to seek professional help.
The connection made pulse oximeters just as hard to buy as toilet paper, disinfectants, and thermometers—but now, the at-home version of the medical tool is back in stock. Sellers on Amazon have ample supply, and prices have gone back to their pre-COVID norms of around $30 for a basic pulse oximeter. (Note: Many of these devices are not FDA-approved and recommended for sport or aviation use only. While shoppers report accurate statistics similar to readers at their doctor’s office, these at-home finds should not be expected to offer the same level of accuracy.)
A pulse oximeter works by transmitting a wavelength of light through your finger, earlobe, or toe. According to the World Health Organization, this light finds hemoglobin—the protein in your blood that carries oxygen—and the amount absorbed by the protein varies based on how much oxygen is already saturating it. A sensor on the other side of your extremity then calculates your blood oxygen levels based on the light wavelengths received, along with your blood pressure and pulse rate.
To get the best at-home reading, it’s important to complete the reading on a finger without any nail polish that’s ideally warm, according to a previous Health interview with Sharon Chekijian, MD MPH, an emergency medicine doctor with Yale Medicine. She also suggested trying to use the middle finger and paying close attention to the reading to ensure the device is continuously tracking your vitals—sudden dips and jumps could indicate you’re not using the pulse oximeter correctly.
Already an essential for those with asthma or other lung diseases, a pulse oximeter is an affordable investment that could give you peace of mind during the pandemic. It’s not only easy to use, but it gives valuable insight into your health that could be helpful to medical professionals. Below, we’ve highlighted the top-rated pulse oximeters on Amazon that are available to shop right now.
Zacurate upgraded its pro series device after reviewers complained it was slow and gave inconsistent readings, and the latest generation is a significant improvement—almost 6,000 shoppers gave it a perfect rating. The new model reads vitals in just 10 seconds and gives a blood level saturation reading within .2% deviation of the actual numbers, according to lab testing done by the brand. It also provides a consistent reading under all light conditions, including indoor and outdoor settings, and displays the stats on an easy-to-read LED screen. Plus, it provides oxygen saturation levels (SpO2) up to 100%, rather than capping the reading at 99% like most devices.
Available at amazon.com, $30 (was $35)
It can be difficult to understand exactly what your health stats means—but this pulse oximeter hopes to simplify it. The LED screen displays your heart rate, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure within 10 seconds of attaching the device to your fingertips. A built-in alarm will then alert you on two occasions: if you’re taking your pulse incorrectly, or if your stats are outside of the safe limits. This ensures you’re not just getting access to your data, but knowing if your vitals have hit an unsafe point. Naturally, 95% of reviewers have given the device a positive rating.
Available at amazon.com, $30
The single-button design of this budget-friendly pulse oximeter makes it easy for people of all ages to use. Simply clip it on your finger, press the button, and wait for your stats to display on the LED screen. The battery-operated pick automatically turns off after 5 seconds to preserve energy, and a power display symbol on the screen will indicate if it’s time to put in new AAA batteries. Already a go-to for hundreds of reviewers, it even comes with a lanyard cord to bring the device on the go.
Available at amazon.com, $25
Get 12 hours of continuous heart rate and oxygen monitoring with this health tracking ring. A unique ring sensor tracks and displays your vital stats on screen for easy insight into your health. It also records your daily data, which you can access on a smartphone app or personal computer to track trends over time. But the most compelling feature of the rechargeable device is the optional alert setting; it vibrates the ring every time your stats drop below a threshold you set on the app. A reviewer wrote this alert setting “saved their life” the very first time they wore it—and it even impressed another reviewer’s doctor and nurse when they showed off the device at an appointment.
Available at amazon.com, $180
Keeping track of your health data can be a tedious task, but this pulse oximeter does it for you. It connects to a smartphone app via Bluetooth connection and sends your readings in real time to create a daily, weekly, monthly, or even annual report of your oxygen levels and heart rate. Your oxygen levels are accurately recorded, with just a 2% deviation between the normal oxygen reading range (between 70% and 100%)—and one reviewer found it was consistent with readings from a regulated medical device at their doctor’s office on 2 separate occasions.
Available at amazon.com, $50
A fitness tracker is a great multipurpose alternative to a pulse oximeter. Select devices from Fitbit, like the Fitbit Charge 4, can calculate your estimated oxygen variation with built-in red and infrared sensors that work similarly to a pulse oximeter to approximate how much oxygen is in your blood. The data is recorded in your sleep app and indicates whether there were small or large variations. Of course, the Charge 4 boasts a long list of additional features like a built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring, and activity tracking through a new feature called “active zone minutes”—it’s an alternative to reaching 10,000 steps every day.
Available at amazon.com, $149
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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