Finger Pulse Oximeter explained, how to read, manage COVID-19, and when to call NHS 999 / 111

What is a finger pulse oximeter?

A pulse oximeter checks how much oxygen is in your blood - it's that simple.

A digital thermometer can go in your ear, but a pulse oximeter fits over your finger. It shines light through your finger to measure oxygen levels and shows you two numbers - blood oxygen and pulse rate.

If you would just like to buy a pulse oximeter, scroll down to go straight to our recommended picks, they have clear 'CE' clinical safety marking, and they have numerous positive reviews on Amazon. 

Above all, please download, print and keep handy this NHS leaflet for on what to do if you catch COVID-19 and need to self-isolate, which includes how to use your own pulse-oximeter, and how to interpret the readings to decide whether to call for help. 

Use a Finger Pulse Oximeter to manage COVID safely

If you catch COVID, it can sometimes cause oxygen levels in your blood to drop quickly without you noticing. You may not feel breathless, or horribly ill, but actually be in serious trouble, due to something called 'silent hypoxia'. If you are unvaccinated, this is more likely. If silent hypoxia does strike, it can kill you, or lead to a long hospital stay lasting months, in bed, unconscious intubated on tubes in ICU. During this time your body fitness fades away, and you can come out  very weak and unable to work, 10% of the person you were before. This is because your internal organs get trashed by silent hypoxia, secretly, before you notice. 

 

So, to defend against this life-changing outcome, you can use a pulse oximeter three times a day to measure your blood oxygen if you get COVID, following the NHS recommended guidance leaflet. Make sure you take some blood oxygen readings before you get ill to learn 'what's normal for you' and #knowyournumbers. 

If you catch COVID, knowing your reading for 'what's normal for you', and then giving a reading for right-now can be a real help to your GP, or any other doctor trying to assess you over the phone, and can help them decide what's best for you - whether that's remaining at home, or going to hospital. 

 

During the COVID pandemic, the NHS has learned that if you use oximeters at home, and catch 'silent hypoxia' early, you can be taken to hospital and treated before it gets too bad, staying fin hospital for only a few days, rather than months.

Recent South African studies show using finger pulse oximeters at home cuts death-rates 50%.

How can I choose the right Finger Pulse Oximeter?

We advise you only buy a Pulse Oximeter that is 'CE Marked' and a Class 2B medical device- this shows that it meets a basic medical equipment safety and accuracy standard and can be sold in the European Union and United Kingdom. Oximeters that say 'for sports and recreation only' don't meet this standard and shouldn't be used medically. All the oximeters we list are CE marked [we have checked the packaging or supplier website]. 

What should I do next?

If you get your pulse oximeter, make sure you try it out on yourself and your loved ones, to establish what oxygen level readings are 'normal for you'.  This is really important if you have an existing illness that affects your breathing,  or darker skin [as unfortunately, this can affect the readings a little]. 

 

Then if you get COVID badly, you can advise 111 or your GP what's normal, and what your current blood oxygen is, and how much it has dropped by.

 

They will be pleased you can help them with this extra information, as it will help them decide the best care for you. (Sometimes telephone health-care is described as 'trying to treat the patient whilst reaching through a letter-box'!)

If you are very vulnerable, and get a positive COVID test result, your NHS GP  may loan you a Finger Pulse Oximeter for two weeks

If you  are very vulnerable, for example you have a long term condition, and you have a test for COVID19 and it shows you have the COVID19 virus then your NHS family doctor may loan you an NHS finger pulse oximeter to use at home for two weeks. 

Example illnesses:

  • diabetes [high blood sugar]

  • lung diseases [COPD]

  • kidney diseases 

  • morbid obesity [if you are very fat]

If you have an illness like this, you may want to wait to be contacted rather than buying your own oximeter.

Best Buy Finger Pulse Oximeters 

Low cost and OK - The XNUO, Anapulse and Salter are all CE marked medical devices and so meet EU standards. 

Mid-range -  The Medisana and  Beurer P40 are well-known German brands, the Medisana is on sale right now and the Buerer is manufactured in Germany. 

Top-of-the-range - the most expensive we recommend is the Beurer PO60.  

The PO60  has a 100 reading memory, a free smartphone App to track results and Bluetooth linking to your smartphone. 

 

If you want to know more about Finger Pulse Oximeters and using them to manage COVID19 ,  frequent questions and answers

Q1 - Can I use my sports watch or mobile phone to monitor my pulse oxygen instead?

A1 - Apart from the Withings Scan Watch, no sports tracker watches have CE accreditation yet. So it's up to you to decide if what you have feels accurate enough, read about Apple devices, Fitbit and Samsung devices.

Q2 - Can I use a pulse-oximeter at home and get safe accurate readings?

A2 - If you follow the NHS guides, yes, clinicians understand the results can vary from person to person, they will mainly be interested in how different the reading is from 'what's normal for you', so remember to take some practice readings and make a note of the results.