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11 Best Pulse Oximeters for Self Care

For years, athletes have monitored their pulse and blood oxygen levels as a way to measure improvements in performance. If you’ve recently visited the doctor, you’ve almost certainly had those measurements taken with a fingertip pulse oximeter. Your pulse and blood oxygen saturation levels can provide important clues about our overall health.

While these devices are seeing a surge in popularity for monitoring your health at home, are pulse oximeters really necessary for self-care? It depends. The data, when tracked, can help your doctor to diagnose issues like sleep apnea and even COVID-19 related pneumonia, as the disease significantly reduces blood oxygen saturation, even when you may not show symptoms. They’re also useful for those folks who suffer from chronic breathing ailments like emphysema, COPD, and asthma.

From fingertip units to wearables like rings and bracelets that connect to your smartphone and offer downloadable data, we’ve found the best simple to use pulse oximeters available for both home and medical use. They’re all surprisingly affordable and make great gifts for the elderly members of your family as well as the athletic ones.

Price: $ – $
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How Does Pulse Oximetry Work?

You might wonder how a little fingertip device on the outside can get data about what's happening inside your body. Per the experts at Healthline, (who always boil the complex into easily understandable terms) these devices use tiny beams of light that pass through your blood and measure the amount of oxygen. 

Changes in light absorption help to determine oxygenated or deoxygenated blood. These units also monitor your heart rate, and many even measure your pulse strength via a bar graph or waveform readout.

Why Are Pulse Oximeters Useful for Athletes?

According to this article from iHealthLabs, endurance athletes can monitor blood oxygen levels to track improvements over time, but they're also a good way to ensure high performance as blood oxygen saturation is critical to that equation.

It can also help athletes to get a sense of whether they can push themselves harder to reach even higher achievements without endangering their health.

Climbers often use pulse oximeters as changes in elevation can cause serious side effects, as has been well documented with the number of climbing deaths we've seen on Mt. Everest in recent years.

What Are the Advantages of a Wearable Pulse Oximeter?

While fingertip pulse oximeters are designed to be used in short stints to provide immediate results, wearable pulse oximeters can help to track longer-term data.

Many of these wearables send data via an app to your smartphone allowing you to track your information for up to 16 hours at a time. This especially helpful for those who are regularly experiencing poor sleep. A wearable unit can track not only their heart rate and blood oxygen saturation levels throughout the night,  but can also track motion.

While you might think you're simply restless, it may be that you're suffering from sleep apnea which can be serious but is a treatable condition. 

Should Everyone Have a Pulse Oximeter at Home?

It couldn't hurt, as long as it's used as a part of your medical aresenal like thermometers, and other first aid supplies. It can be helpful when you're sick to keep an eye on your blood oxygen saturation, and could clue you into when it's time to go to urgent care.

What we'd caution is that some folks can become a little obsessed with these devices, and that, in itself, can be unhealthy. While we're living in uncertain times, these units can add a little peace of mind and perhaps even push you to become more active and healthy.

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