The stethoscope and blood pressure monitor may be the most recognizable medical tools we have, but pulse oximeters are a close second for the most-used medical device. Pulse oximeters, or pulse ox, measure the amount of oxygenated blood (Spo2) in your body, giving medical professionals an idea of how much oxygen your body is carrying to vital organs and tissues.
Pulse oximeters for home use allow patients to monitor vital signs with an extra layer. These tools give you a better view of your health and allow you to coordinate with your healthcare provider. If you have a condition that affects your blood oxygen levels — think sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, lung cancer, or heart failure, among many other conditions — you may benefit from an at-home pulse oximeter.
Be careful, however. Many cheap models found on the internet don’t do much to measure accurately. They’re labeled “for recreational use” and aren’t going to give you the measurements you need. We’ve put together a list of fingertip oximeters designed to deliver accurate results and peace of mind, including the overnight wearable, Wellue, and the budget-friendly Zacurate Pro Series.
At a glance:
- Best budget option:
- Best premium option: Masimo MightySat
- Best wearable:
- Most advanced: Innovo Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
- Best for families:
- Best battery life:
Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter — Best budget option
Zaccurate’s Pro Series choice is an affordable yet highly accurate option for those on a budget. It’s accurate to within 2%, providing blood-oxygen levels, pulse rate, and pulse strength in about 10 seconds. The fingertip design is easy to use and suitable for most adults and children over the age of 12.
It features a bright, LED screen for easy reading and an average battery life of 40 hours. The housing is hypoallergenic and comes in a few different colors. The finger chamber has a smart spring system to make placement intuitive yet comfortable. It’s able to read the full 100% Spo2 and isn’t as sensitive to movement as some other models on the market.
It comes with a silicone sleeve, a lanyard, and a full-year warranty with phone technical support. Batteries are included with the package so that you can start right out of the box. It’s easy to use and wallet-friendly.
Masimo MightySat — Best premium
The Masimo MightySat provides SpO2 levels, pulse rate, perfusion index, pleth variability index, and respiration rate from the pleth. It’s a hospital-grade monitor designed to provide comprehensive and accurate readings.
The finger monitor molds to your fingertip to ensure comfortable and accurate readings. The rotating, high-resolution display is great for visuals and provides a dynamic display. The touchpad allows you access to all the features while the high-resolution waveforms make it easy to monitor. It’s Bluetooth-enabled for connection to the companion app.
It comes with a hardshell carrying case, batteries, and a lanyard, so you’re ready to go right out of the box. It’s a good option if you need accurate readings with a range of customizable options for sending to your healthcare provider or for use with your patients. It comes with a two-year limited warranty.
Wellue O2Ring Oxygen Tracker — Best wearable
The Wellue O2Ring is designed to be worn overnight or for extended periods to alert you to changes in your oxygen levels. The ring design is comfortable and adjustable and uses the same type of technology hospitals do to track blood oxygen levels and heart rate.
It sends a vibration to your hand to alert you to low oxygen, giving you time to adjust your position or take action. It provides up to 14 hours on battery life on a two-hour charge and is suitable for a variety of conditions that affect SpO2, including sleep apnea and COPD.
The companion app offers a history of your levels, including how long your blood oxygen level was below 90%. You can export the files for your healthcare provider, and it doesn’t require a smartphone to work. The memory can operate as a stand-alone device.
Innovo Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter — Most advanced
The Innovo choice provides SpO2 level, pulse rate, and perfusion index with a plethysmograph on a customizable LED with six display options. The deluxe version sends you a soundless, vibrational alert when your levels drop too low, giving you time to adjust your position or make changes directly after you’ve taken your levels.
It comes with batteries and a holder, so you’re set to go right out of the box. The display is multidimensional and easy to read. It offers fail-safes so that you know your positioning is correct for highly accurate readings.
It’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and comes with a one-year warranty against manufacturer’s defects. Once you set alarms, they’re saved for each time you take your pulse. It’s only for stationary use.
Accumed CMS-50DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter — Best for families
Accumed’s choice is great for travel because of the durable housing and the included carrying case. It provides SpO2 readings and your pulse rate all in one display. The design fits kids over the age of four to adults, giving it one of the broadest fit ranges on our list.
It provides readings within eight to 10 seconds and has a specialized cover to reduce interference from ambient light. It automatically powers off when not in use and provides up to 24 hours of battery life if it runs continually.
It requires you to be completely still and is only accurate enough to use for things like exercise or day-to-day readings. It shows levels at 95% or greater and also displays beats per minute.
SantaMedical Generation 2 Fingertip Pulse Oximeter — Best battery life
SantaMedical’s Generation 2 is designed for sports enthusiasts and aviators, among others, who need a quick idea of SpO2 in a lightweight design with extra-long battery life. This is a budget-friendly, entry-level choice with six display options and durable housing.
This choice isn’t for those with severe medical conditions, but it offers accurate readings for those looking for lifestyle monitoring. It comes with batteries and has a continuous operation capacity of up to 30 hours. It shuts off automatically to conserve battery power.
It provides fast readings with a bright display. It comes with a one-year warranty and technical support with convenient customer service. It’s designed for sports and altitude use.
More information on Pulse Oximeters
How does a pulse oximeter work?
A beam of light passes through a fingertip to measure the light absorption of the hemoglobin in your bloodstream. If blood is redder, it has oxygenated blood, while bluish or purple hues indicate low levels of oxygen in the blood. The device reads this light absorption to make estimations about the oxygen concentration in your blood. The most accurate readings involve drawing blood directly, but since this isn’t sustainable, a pulse ox tool can get within 2% of that accuracy through far less invasive means.
How accurate are home pulse oximeters?
Pulse oximeters today are highly accurate. Medically graded versions for home use can deliver reliable results within 2% of what arterial blood gas will show. For those of you with severe oxygen issues, home devices may become less accurate if your readings fall below 80%, but you’ll be hospitalized in that event regardless of the equipment you have at home.
Certain things affect the accuracy of your home pulse oximeter tools:
• Nail polish or false nails — The reading can’t penetrate the finger to gain an accurate picture.
• Cold hands — Warming up your fingertips for a few minutes helps ensure the accuracy of medical-grade devices.
• Poor circulation — Your healthcare professional may teach you tips to help overcome this obstacle with your home pulse oximeter.
• Poor positioning — Make sure you are stationary and that your finger is below the level of your heart.
What is the best oxygen level?
Normal blood oxygen ranges between 80 and 100 mm Hg. Normal readings from a pulse oximeter fall between 95 and 100. If you have a condition that affects your blood oxygen levels, such as COPD, your healthcare professional may have alternate ranges for your normal levels. Be sure to plan your readings with your healthcare professional, so you know what to look for.
Can a pulse oximeter detect a heart attack?
A pulse oximeter determines how well your heart is pumping oxygen. In a hospital setting, this can determine if a heart attack or heart failure is taking place. With home pulse ox tools, the accuracy of the tool may not as precise as a hospital’s, but it can certainly give you your first indication that something serious is happening.
Does your oxygen level drop when you sleep?
Everyone does experience lower oxygen levels while sleeping but within a specific range. Those with health conditions such as COPD or sleep apnea may be in greater danger of lower oxygen levels during the night.
If you experience a condition that creates worrisome oxygen levels while you sleep, a wearable pulse oximeter could help you keep tabs on your health. Check the accuracy levels of the model you choose and ensure that it fits appropriately by having it checked with your healthcare professional.
Why do I need a pulse oximeter?
Pulse oximeters have a variety of uses now that their accuracy has improved for home use. In addition to working with your healthcare provider to gather data for a comprehensive picture of health, pulse ox tools can monitor conditions both serious and every day.
If you have a serious medical condition, a pulse oximeter not only provides alerts for when your oxygen levels drop but also helps your medical professional understand the day-to-day fluctuations to ensure your therapies are working.
For example, if you have COPD or heart failure, monitoring regular blood oxygen levels helps you know when to head to the hospital for critical readings. It can also give your healthcare professional a good idea if your therapies are working to make sure your condition is well controlled.
For sports enthusiasts or aviators, a pulse ox tool can also help. If you spend a lot of time at high altitudes, you want to have a way to make sure your body is receiving what it needs. A home pulse oximeter could be the difference between doing what you love safely and experiencing adverse side effects.
How do I choose the right pulse oximeter?
When you’re choosing the right pulse oximeter, keep these questions in mind:
- How accurate is it? — You want one that provides an accuracy rating of within 2% of blood drawn oxygen levels if this is for medical reasons. These accuracy claims must be independently tested and provide clear documentation.
- What size is the monitor? — Most fingertip monitors are sized for average hands. If your fingertip is smaller or larger than average, you may not get an accurate reading. Be sure to check with your medical professional about the correct fit if you suspect your fingers fall outside the average range.
- Is there a warranty? Customer service or technical support? — Some pulse oximeters are quite an investment and may have a learning curve. Having the support of experts could help you ensure the right fit. Plus, a warranty helps with peace of mind once you’ve invested.
- Can I read and understand the display? — Make sure the screen is something you can read and understand easily, so you always know what your results are. Displays that rotate or give you a range of options are the best choice.
- Is the device easy to use? — Medical-grade devices should alert you if you aren’t in the right position or there’s a problem with the reading. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully and work with your healthcare provider to know how to take measurements correctly.
- What is the battery life like? The lifespan of the device? — Both the battery and the device’s durability are a vital part of your assessment. You want a tool that offers plenty of battery life and preferably shuts off automatically to help preserve that battery life. You should also be able to use your device for many years with accuracy.
Looking for more great stuff? Find more on our curated deals page.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the characteristics of oxygenated blood. It is redder, whereas unoxygenated blood is more purple.
Digital Trends may earn commission on products purchased through our links, which supports the work we do for our readers.
- The best smart rings: The next frontier for wearable tech
- Your Fitbit may be able to detect a key coronavirus symptom
- The best fitness trackers for 2020
- The best sleep trackers for 2020
- Stride to your fitness goals with these great August 2020 treadmill deals