What is a Finger Oxygen Monitor?

The finger oxygen monitor, also known as finger oximeter or finger pulse oximeter, is a device that not many people are familiar with but it is an important medical diagnostic tool that is extensively used in hospitals, in industries and in homes. It is a small and lightweight contraption used to measure the oxygen saturation in a human patient’s blood through the fingertip.

In the past, measuring oxygen saturation in the blood involved a tedious process that started with the drawing of a blood. However, sometime in the early 1970s they discovered a non-invasive method that merely involved flashing different wavelengths of light through a translucent part of the human body (like the finger tips) and measuring the oxygenation through the known light absorbance properties of hemoglobin. Hence, these days, all you need to do is slip a finger oxygen monitor on your index or middle finger and you would get a reading in seconds.

There are different types of finger oxygen monitors based on the setting they are used in. Hospital versions vary but popular versions are designed with fingertip attachment which is hooked up to a base unit that shows real time readings in an LED or LCD display which can be monitored remotely such that the nurses or quickly alerted whenever the saturation levels goes below critical levels. There are also varieties that are designed for pediatric use which may not attach to infants’ finger tips but to other parts like the foot (although fingertip varieties are also available for pediatric use).

Some intermediate-sized models are available which sports a hand-held base unit which gets its readings from a similar fingertip attachment.

The portable version which has become widely adopted for mobile or home diagnostic use is an extremely smaller version of its hospital cousins. Most of them are small enough to fit on the palm of your hand and are very lightweight that you can take it anywhere with you. They have a built-in LED or LCD display where you can check the SpO2 readings as well as the pulse rate which is also provided by most models of finger oximeters.

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Uses of Finger Oxygen Monitors

Finger oxygen monitors or fingertip pulse oximeters have become a multi-million dollar industry in the United States alone where it reached $201 million in 2006 and which is expected to hit $310 million yearly by 2013 (Source: Frost & Sullivan, 2007). It definitely has come a long way ever since it was invented in the early 1970’s and first commercialized in the early 1980’s.

But why is it experiencing such a growth in usage?

In my opinion, its popularity as a personal diagnostic device is quite understandable given its versatility and the number health conditions or activities where oxygen saturation in the blood is considered a critical variable. Enumerated below are the common areas finger oxygen monitors or finger oximeters are used for:

  • Hospital uses include monitoring of blood oxygenation of confined patient. They are essential for someone in the intensive care setting as well as those on the operating and emergency tables. They are also a must for patients (pediatric or otherwise) diagnosed with respiratory illnesses like pneumonia or any cardio-pulmonary issues. Basically, they help doctors determine if a patient will need supplementary oxygenation while they are being treated in a hospital ward scenario. Paramedics in the field also use them in making emergency treatment for accident victims.
  • Industry uses include blood oxygen monitoring for pilots that work in aircrafts that have unpressurized cabins and have to do high altitude flying (10,000 to 12,500 feet). They are also integral part of any high altitude climbing kits so they are also commonly used by mountaineers or trekkers that frequently to extremely high altitude locations where oxygen is thinner. Knowing your oxygenation in these scenarios help maintain high performance levels even in such stressful situations.
  • Home or personal uses mainly involve personal monitoring and diagnostics related to any pre-existing respiratory and cardiac health issues. A finger oxygen monitor is a must for asthmatics and those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is a condition commonly seen in the elderly. They are also essential tools to help doctors figure out any sleeping disorder you may have like sleep apnea or any condition that causes you to experience hypoxia (during sleep or otherwise).

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