Pulse Oximeter Readings Chart Explained: From 95% to 100%

pulse oximeter reading chart

A pulse oximeter is this little device that measures your blood oxygen levels and pulse rate.

It’s a super helpful way to get important info on how well oxygen is circulating in your body.

These things work by shining light through your fingertip or earlobe.

The light gets absorbed differently by oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin in your blood.

This allows the device to calculate the percentage of hemoglobin that’s carrying oxygen. We call this number your oxygen saturation or SpO2.

Pulse oximeters also show your pulse rate in beats per minute, so you can see how often your heart is pumping every minute.

Having both your oxygen saturation and pulse rate gives a better idea of what’s up with your breathing.

The device itself has two parts – there’s a little monitor screen and a sensor probe.

The screen displays your SpO2 percentage and pulse numerically.

The probe attaches to your finger or earlobe and sends the measurements to the monitor. Most models you’d use at home combine both parts into one portable unit.

More advanced pulse oximeters can chart your readings over time, store past data, and even connect to your phone wirelessly.

Some can detect irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation. Pretty high tech!

These devices are used a ton in hospitals and doctors’ offices to monitor patients. But they’re also great to have at home if you have a chronic lung problem like COPD or asthma.

Home models are affordable, easy to find online or at the drugstore, and simple to use yourself.

Newer wearable pulse oximeters are made for continuous monitoring. These stick onto your chest or fingertip and take periodic readings all day long.

This helps catch significant oxygen drops that quick spot checks might miss.

The best part is that pulse oximetry gives you key data about your breathing without needles or blood draws. It’s non-invasive and safe for all ages, from tiny newborns to the elderly.

The numbers you see aren’t perfect though. Things like skin color, nail polish, and cold hands can affect accuracy. Abnormal heart rhythms and weak pulses can also interfere.

And the readings may be less reliable at very high or very low oxygen levels. For truly critical situations, lab tests are still the gold standard.

But overall, pulse oximeters provide super valuable insight into your heart and lung function. Home monitoring can help you detect illness early, guide treatment, and offer peace of mind.

With a little know-how, these devices will help you better understand and track your respiratory health.

Normal Pulse Oximeter Readings

Normal pulse oximeter readings can vary based on your age, altitude, activity, and health status. But generally, healthy oxygen saturation is between 95-100%.

This means there’s enough oxygen bound to hemoglobin coursing through your bloodstream.

For most healthy folks at sea level, normal pulse oximeter readings are:

Oxygen levels below 90% are considered low and may indicate a health issue. Between 90-95% is still normal for some groups, but repeat low numbers warrant a closer look.

Here are typical normal SpO2 ranges for different groups of people:

  • Newborns – 90-95%
  • Kids – 95-99%
  • Healthy adults – 95-100%
  • Older adults – 95-100%
  • High altitude (8,000+ feet) – 90-95%

Normal pulse rates also vary by age, with infants having faster little heart rates. Typical ranges are:

  • Newborns – 100-150 beats per minute
  • Babies – 100-160 beats per minute
  • Kids ages 1-10 years – 70-120 beats per minute
  • Kids over 10 years – 60-100 beats per minute
  • Adults – 60-100 beats per minute

Lots of factors can temporarily drop your SpO2 into the low 90s, like:

  • Exercise, especially high intensity
  • Sleeping, particularly with sleep disorders
  • Being at high altitudes over 5,000 feet
  • Respiratory illnesses like pneumonia or COPD
  • Heart conditions affecting circulation

Acute drops in oxygen should always be checked out, especially if they stay low when you’re resting. Abnormal results that persist could signal an underlying medical problem needing attention.

It’s helpful to know your own normal SpO2 range when you’re healthy. This gives you a baseline to compare against if you see readings decline due to sickness. In general, levels that are 2-3% off your norm warrant a follow up.

Pulse oximeters provide objective data about how you’re breathing and circulating oxygen. But you should look at your symptoms too – don’t use the device as your only basis for making medical decisions. When in doubt, ask your doc about worrying results.

How to Use a Pulse Oximeter

Using a pulse oximeter to check your blood oxygen and pulse is pretty straightforward. With practice, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. Here are step-by-step instructions:

  1. Clean and dry your fingertip or earlobe where you’ll attach the sensor probe. Remove any fingernail polish or products.
  2. Turn on your pulse oximeter and make sure it’s charged up. Get your hand in a comfy position where you can hold it still.
  3. Slide your finger into the probe opening or clip the probe onto your earlobe. Probes come in adult, kid, and baby sizes – pick the right one for you and get it on snugly but not too tight.
  4. Hold your finger or earlobe steady without talking or moving. Rest your hand on a flat surface. Proper positioning is key for accurate numbers.
  5. Watch the display and wait 5-10 seconds as it analyzes the signals from the sensor. Your SpO2 percentage and pulse rate will then pop up.
  6. Note your oxygen level and pulse. Let the device keep monitoring for 15-30 more seconds to make sure these values stay stable.
  7. Remove your finger from the probe when you’re done. Always check under similar resting conditions for the best comparisons.
  8. Clean your device periodically according to the manufacturer instructions. Replace batteries or recharge as needed.

Tips for best results:

  • Warm up cold fingers first in your pockets
  • Remove nail polish and false nails
  • Stay still – movement can alter readings
  • Use index finger for adults, big toes for babies
  • Take 3 readings spaced 1-2 minutes apart and average
  • Adjust probe tightness as required

With practice, you’ll get proficient at using a pulse oximeter effectively. Pay attention to proper positioning and technique for the most accurate data.

Interpreting Low Oxygen Saturation Readings

Oxygen saturation readings below your normal range can be concerning. Low SpO2 often signals an underlying medical issue impacting your breathing.

Here are common interpretations of low pulse oximeter results:

  • 95-100% – Normal oxygen level
  • 90-94% – Reason for caution. Recheck your reading.
  • 86-89% – Abnormally low oxygen. Seek medical advice.
  • ≤ 85% – Very low oxygen, potentially serious. Seek urgent medical care.

Oxygen under 90% at rest is considered significant hypoxemia. This means body tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen. Prolonged deprivation can damage vital organs.

Causes of low oxygen saturation include:

  • Pneumonia or acute respiratory infections
  • Asthma attacks
  • COPD flare-ups
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Blood clots in pulmonary arteries
  • High altitude pulmonary edema
  • Severe anemia impairing oxygen transport

Low numbers can also come from improper probe placement, cold fingers, or talking during measurements. Always retest low SpO2 readings to confirm.

If abnormal results continue, monitor your oxygen frequently and see a doctor promptly. Get emergency care for levels under 85% or if you have confusion, chest pain, or trouble breathing.

Supplemental oxygen may be needed for ongoing hypoxemia under 90%. This is often prescribed for chronic lung disease. Only make oxygen therapy changes under medical supervision.

Use your pulse ox as an early warning system. Knowing your oxygen status helps ensure dangerous desaturation events don’t fly under the radar. Catching drops early prevents complications and emergencies.

When to Use a Pulse Oximeter

Pulse oximeters have lots of appropriate uses:

  • Frequent monitoring of known lung problems like COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, or cystic fibrosis
  • Screening for suspected sleep disordered breathing or sleep apnea
  • Checking oxygenation during illnesses like pneumonia, bronchitis, COVID-19, or flu
  • Monitoring infants or elderly patients at higher risk
  • Assessing changes after starting new meds that can impact breathing
  • Evaluating oxygen levels when flying or at high altitude
  • Tracking oxygenation during exercise and training
  • Managing chronic issues like heart failure, lung cancer, obesity hypoventilation
  • Recovering after major surgery needing anesthesia
  • Screening opioid patients for hypoxemia before reducing medication
  • Detecting worsening of underlying medical conditions
  • Reassurance whenever you feel short of breath

Healthy folks don’t need to routinely verify oxygen levels. But having a home pulse oximeter allows prompt assessment if breathing concerns come up.

Readings during exercise have limited usefulness since they normally decrease. Instead, check oxygenation at rest before and after exertion. Also test after recovering from a respiratory illness to ensure your levels normalize.

Closely monitor kids and the elderly when ill with a pulse oximeter since they can worsen quickly. Frequent home testing guides care decisions and may prevent ER visits.

Discuss specific recommendations for use with your doctor if you have lung/heart disease. Tracking oxygenation identifies issues between appointments. But don’t solely rely on the numbers – how you feel is still key.