How to read fingertip pulse oximeter readings

You’ve been sent home with a little piece of medical equipment, and your doctor asked you to monitor your oxygen levels regularly. Or maybe you’re an athlete who’d like to monitor your oxygen levels while in motion.

There could be many reasons why you’ve ended up with an oximeter. But now that you have, it only makes sense to figure out how to read it. Sure, there are numbers it flashes on the screen. However, what do they even mean?


You read a fingertip pulse oximeter by looking at two readings showing your oxygen saturation and pulse rate. The most common range for the oxygen saturation on the fingertip oximeter is 95% to 100%, although it can fall marginally lower without being a cause for concern.

In this article, we’ll also look at the following topics:

  • Why reading fluctuate
  • Whether one hand gives better measurements than the other
finger pulse oximeter

Table of Contents

How to read fingertip pulse oximeter readings

To read fingertip pulse oximeter readings, look at the two readings on its screen. While some machines may show even more, there are always two very prominent numbers on the monitor.

The first is the blood oxygen saturation represented by ‘SpO2’. While the second is the pulse rate which is demonstrated by the letters ‘PR’ or ‘bpm.’

  • The pulse rate reads how many beats your heart is taking per minute.
  • The blood oxygen saturation or ‘SpO2’ is a figure that tells you the percentage of oxygen in your blood.

What are good pulse oximeter readings?

When interpreting pulse oximeter readings, there’s more to know than just what the numbers indicate. One should be able to tell the difference between readings that are considered healthy, those that are concerning, and those that need urgent medical attention.

It is essentially why you’ve gotten your hands on this piece of medical equipment in the first place; to detect any unfortunate and report them to your doctor if needed.

The normal range for pulse oximeter readings

Regarding good oximeter readings, oxygen levels (SpO2) 95 and above are considered adequate. If the oximeter shows any SpO2 number between 95-100, there is nothing to worry about.

Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

If the number is below 95, it is usually of concern. The person should be brought under some medical attention.

Regarding the pulse rate, a range between 60 to 100 beats per minute is quite normal. However, they can go as low as 40 bpm and still be considered normal.

It is because a low resting heart rate is indicative of better cardiovascular health. It is why professional athletes or people who hit the gym regularly tend to have lower resting heart rates.

Below are the other ranges of oximeter readings and what they mean.

Pulse oximeter readings chart

Health AdvisoryOxygen Saturation Levels (SpO2)
Healthy and normal blood oxygen levels95 to100
Concerning but can be monitored at home91 to 95
This needs to be bought to the attention of a General Practitioner or Physician.Less than 90
Considered an emergency, the lack of oxygen starts to affect the brain. A person may experience loss of consciousness, blurry vision, or dizziness.80 to 85
Cyanosis – a condition where the skin starts to change color due to lack of oxygen. Needs extremely urgent medical attention.Below 67

Pulse oximeter readings different on each hand

The pulse oximeter should deliver nearly the same results regardless of which finger it is being used. However, suppose you are getting a significantly different value from both hands.

And they also tend to fall on two different columns mentioned on the chart above. In such a case, we advise you to trust the reading of the middle finger of the right hand. The right thumb of the right hand will also deliver accurate insight.

According to the National Library of Medicine, the right middle finger and thumb are the closest to revealing the correct values of arterial oxygen. If you choose just one, then place the gadget on the right hand’s middle finger only.

Why do oximeter readings fluctuate

Like any other helpful medical equipment, an oximeter is a great tool. However, it is not magic. The machine works by shining 2 lights through your fingertip or wherever it has been placed on your body.

One of these lights is red, and the other is infrared. The infrared light is absorbed by blood which has plenty of oxygen but passes right through the blood that doesn’t have enough.

On the other hand, the red light passes through blood with plenty of oxygen yet gets absorbed by the blood that doesn’t have enough.

Thus, the machine needs a few seconds to perform the necessary mechanics to display the results. While it is doing so, the readings fluctuate for a few seconds before they stabilize.

So, it’s best to wait a couple of seconds before the machine concludes the final pulse and oxygen saturation levels.

Another reason it might fluctuate is that the machine is losing connection or is out of batteries.

Best oximeters

This medical gadget may seem small, yet it can quickly deliver information regarding oxygen saturation levels. And when given medical attention on time, it can indeed save lives.

It is essential equipment, especially for patients suffering from respiratory conditions, recently undergoing surgery, heart conditions, etc.

When an instrument is so crucial, you must ensure it is reliable. That is why we’ve chosen two of the best Oximeters in the market and mentioned them down below:

Innova deluxe iP900AP fingertip pulse oximeter

One of the best oximeters on amazon is from Innova. Its adjustable display brightness and very audible beeps for a pulse for each detectable pulse make it great for sports persons.

Especially mountain climbers, bikers, and runners who want to keep a check on their oxygen levels on the go. However, it should still be used in a state of rest and stillness.

With this particular gadget, you don’t even have to worry about whether the results are reliable. It’s incorporated with a plethysmograph that detects whether you are properly holding and taking the reading. It comes with the necessary batteries and a lanyard.

BrandInnovo Deluxe iP900AP
Battery Life40 Hours
Model NameiP900AP
Number of Batteries2 AAA batteries are required. (included)
Product Dimensions1.97 x 1.97 x 0.79 inches
Weight3.21 Ounces


  • It’s been reviewed by more than 40,000 people.
  • It is built better than some of the even-cheaper versions.
  • We like its design.
  • We get repeatable readings using the device.
  • The look feels well-thought-out.


  • You can find cheaper versions out there if you want.
  • Some people claim to get different readings on different fingers, although that wasn’t our experience.
  • We’re surprised they didn’t go for higher-end materials.
  • We wish the data was connected to an app.
Innovo Deluxe iP900AP 
The Innovo Deluxe iP900AP is the golden standard on the market.

Facelake FL400 pulse fingertip oximeter with carrying case

If you just want to pick up an inexpensive gadget that will get the job done, then pick this one by Facelake. It’s been tried, tested, and trusted by thousands of people.

It gives you just what you need: an oxygen saturation level and pulse rate. It comes with its batteries included, a cute case, and a Lanyard.

But what we love most about it is that it indicates the level of the battery in the monitor so that you can switch it out in time. It also has a one-year warranty, so you get the most out of your money!

BrandFaceLake ® FL400
Are Batteries IncludedYes
Number of Batteries2 AAA batteries are required. (included)
Package Dimensions4.49 x 2.83 x 1.81 inches
Weight3.21 Ounces


  • The price point is very appealing.
  • It does what it’s supposed to.
  • It’s been working for as long as we’ve had it.


  • It feels cheaper than the higher-end models.
  • The design isn’t impressive.
  • The way it works is less obvious than the previous model.
FaceLake ® FL400
The FaceLake ® FL400 has an attractive price point.

Can a pulse oximeter give false readings?

Yes, an oximeter can deliver false readings. It may produce readings that aren’t demonstrative of the person’s actual arterial oxygen levels if:

  • there is poor circulation of blood in the body, especially in the hand
  • the skin where the machine is clipped on is too thick
  • the hand is too cold
  • there has been very recent tobacco use
  • the nail paint has been applied on the finger being read

Don’t worry much because according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), oximeters must provide an accuracy of at least 4 to 6 percent to be sold in the market.

Still, here are the best practices to follow to receive the most accurate results:

  1. Make sure there is no nail polish or jewelry on the finger the instrument is clipped on. 
  2. The hand shouldn’t be too cold. It should be at a nice warm temperature.
  3. When the device is clipped onto the finger, that particular hand should be below heart level.
  4.  Use the device on the right middle finger for the best results. You can also use it on any other finger, earlobe, or toe.
  5. One trying to take an oximeter reading must keep still for the entire process.

How do you increase pulse oximeter readings?

There are many ways that one can naturally improve the oxygen in their blood. Nonetheless, suppose that your oxygen saturation levels are below the normal range. Then, these natural ways should only be used alongside modern medicine.

  1. Do regular aerobic exercises: Often referred to as ‘Cardio’, these exercises help your body absorb oxygen better. Over time, they are bound to increase your SpO2 levels.
  2. Perform breathing exercises: Doing exercises as simple as breathing deeply can open up the airways and increase oxygen in the bloodstream. Those who consciously switched from upper chest breathing to feeling the air go deep in their diaphragm have improved their SpO2 levels. Not to forget the wonders it does for people with anxiety and mental health issues.
  3. Load up on antioxidants and good foods: If we increase the extent to which the hemoglobin in your body can carry oxygen, we can increase the overall oxygen saturation levels in your blood. You can do this by incorporating dozens of antioxidants into your diet. Eat strawberries, blueberries, plums, apples, prunes, etc., to get the necessary antioxidants. Secondly, consume iron-rich foods such as spinach, legumes, organ meats, Quinoa, etc., to elevate the production of hemoglobin in your body.
  4. Quit Smoking: This one is given. Smoking affects your lungs’ capacity to take in oxygen, which inevitably shows up in the bloodstream. You’ll notice the difference within only weeks of quitting.
  5. Drink lots of water: It sounds like a no-brainer, but here’s the science. The hydration of your lungs, which is fulfilled by drinking water, helps them take in more oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Drinking plenty of water can increase blood oxygen saturation by 5 percent!

Increase pulse oximeter readings in a short span of time

Leading a healthy lifestyle with the tips mentioned above can increase the blood’s oxygen levels over time.

But what about when the oxygen levels have already dropped to a hazardous level, and emergency medical attention is on its way? In such a situation, we suggest the ‘Prone’ position.

What is the ‘Prone’ Position?

Proning is the name of a position that can be practiced by a patient who wants to increase their oxygen levels but can’t do so due to delay medical attention.

In this position, the person simply lies down on their belly with the help of 3 pillows. One pillow supports the neck, the second supports the belly, and the last one is placed beneath the feet.

The heart and lungs do not have to fight against any gravitation force when a person is lying on their stomach. It helps the heart pump better, resulting in more oxygenation in the body.

One should stay in the position for two to three hours or until the SpO2 level improves.

Occasionally one can lie on the right and left side in a comfortable curved position.

What causes low pulse oximeter readings at night and normal during the day?

There can be low pulse oximeter readings at night as compared to the day. It is because there is reduced breathing during sleep. It causes the oximeter readings to be normal during the day but slightly lower at night.

The difference shouldn’t be much, though. It should be reduced by 7 to 8 percent, not more than that. So if a person’s wake reading is 95, it shouldn’t be less than 87 at night.


Can cold fingers affect pulse oximeter readings?

Yes, cold fingers can be at play to create false readings. Because if you’ve ever noticed, when you’re hands and feet are cold, they become numb and stiff. It is because the cold temperature directly correlates with poor blood circulation. And if you’re fingers aren’t getting good blood circulation when you’re trying to determine your oxygen saturation level, the result can be false and misleading.

Is 92 a good oxygen level?

92 is not a good oxygen level to have, but it might not need as urgent medical attention either. If you or somebody you know has an oxygen level of 92, consider doing some breathing exercises and taking another reading. Hopefully, the oxygen level will increase. If not, then contact a General practitioner to investigate what may be the underlying issue. If the oxygen level drops below 88, treat it as urgent and rush to the nearest emergency room.

What can cause inaccurate pulse oximeter readings?

Here are all the reasons summarized why oximeter readings might be inaccurate:
– nail polish on the finger
– skin pigmentation
– cold hands
– tobacco use
– skin thickness
– a reading is taken when the person is not stationary

For how long should I put my finger in an oximeter?

When you clip on your oximeter, ensure your hand is stationary. Your hand should ideally be in a resting position, either on a flat surface or a pillow. For the first few seconds, the monitor will display a bunch of numbers that will fluctuate.

Wait till all of the numbers have stabilized. The numbers that are displayed on the monitor and are stable are your final oxygen readings.

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