Equipment: what is a saturation oximeter (pulse oximeter) and what is it for?

The saturation oximeter (or pulse oximeter) is a device used to measure the oxygenation of the blood, to find out whether the lungs are able to take in sufficient quantities from the air they breathe


A saturation meter (or pulse oximeter) is a device used to measure the oxygenation of your blood and is useful for finding out whether your lungs are able to take in enough of it from the air you breathe.

The pulse oximeter is normally used in patients with asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD, pneumonia, etc…

It can be useful to have one in the home to monitor the oxygenation of patients with fever, cough, shortness of breath (dyspnoea) and Covid: you can buy one in a pharmacy or on the internet.


Normal oxygenation values (reported as SpO2) range from 97% upwards – but values as low as 94% are not worrying, especially in patients with known lung diseases.

If oxygenation falls below 90 per cent in people with high fever, coughing and shortness of breath, the emergency number should be contacted: there are people at the Operations Centre who know how to give the right indications and assess the case correctly.

In addition to the oxygenation values, most saturimeters also report the frequency of heartbeats or pulse rate: when reading this, it is important not to confuse the two data.


In order to use the saturation meter efficiently, it is necessary for your fingers to be warm: so rub your finger well before measuring and try on different fingers to choose the one that provides the best measurement.

The highest value to be considered, lower ones are not considered, and it is best to repeat the measurement on several fingers.

Some patients, such as those suffering from Raynaud’s Phenomenon or diseases that cause poor circulation in the fingers, may show falsely lower oxygen saturation values: by warming the fingers well, this problem can, at least in part, be avoided.


There are also some conditions that can hinder correct measurement, including:

nails that are too long: they must be cut, otherwise the fingertip will not fall within the range of the laser beam used to measure oxygen saturation;

nail polish: modern nail polishes do not generally cause lower values, but it is better to remove them.

“gel nails’ (those that are glued on top of normal nails): they may generate false results. It is not clear whether this is due to the formulation of the gel or to the fact that these applications are usually also particularly long.

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