Best pulse oximeters 2024: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice - Which? (2024)

Pulse oximeters are small medical devices that let you keep tabs on key health measures such as your blood oxygen levels and pulse rate at home, and share them with your doctor or clinician if needed.

Here, we explain how much pulse oximeters typically cost, the key features worth looking for and how to decide if buying one is right for you.

We also advise on the best places to buy one and include links to our expert pulse oximeter reviews so you can see which models we recommend.

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Best Buy pulse oximeters for 2024

These pulse oximeters came out on top in our testing, producing accurate readings while being comfortable to wear and easy to use.

Compare all the pulse oximeters we've tested with ourpulse oximeter reviews.

Do I need a pulse oximeter?

If you need a pulse oximeter, your doctor will usually advise you to buy one. You might not even need to buy it yourself, as it might be supplied by the NHS, depending on your condition and circ*mstances.

Pulse oximeters are useful monitoring devices to have at home for certain groups of people, such as those who are prone to respiratory failure, suffer from a chronic respiratory condition or require oxygen therapy. For these patients, a drop in oxygen levels could point to something much more serious.

If you're concerned about your respiratory health and think a pulse oximeter would be beneficial, speak to a medical professional first. Pulse oximeters are not a substitute for medical advice, and any at-home monitoring should be part of a clear health management plan.

Are there NHS-approved pulse oximeters?

Don't fall for false claims to be 'NHS approved', which you might spot in some pulse oximeter marketing info.

Our investigation into cheap pulse oximeters sold on online marketplaces revealed a Wild West of uncertified models which didn't have the required CE marks to be sold in the UK, along with products claiming NHS endorsem*nt, which they didn't have.

When we queried this with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), it told us: ‘The NHS does not approve or endorse any medical devices, including oximeters.' CE or UKCA-certified pulse oximeters will meet MHRA standards and are your best bet - see our pulse oximeter reviews.

How much do pulse oximeters cost?

Pulse oximeters typically cost around £15-30, although prices can vary from £5-50. You don't necessarily have to pay more to get a great model; some of our Best Buys cost less than £20.

If you're after particular features (such as a perfusion index function or a larger, OLED screen), the extra functionality will usually cost you more.

You'll need to account for the cost of batteries too, as all the pulse oximeters we've tested use them - usually AAA, but you may come across some that use AA. The charge can run down quite quickly, especially if you're using it regularly, so it's worth making sure you always have spare batteries to hand if rely on regular readings.

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Pulse oximeter features to look for

Best pulse oximeters 2024: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice - Which? (1)

While our in-depth reviews can tell you which Best Buy pulse oximeters provide the speediest, most accurate readings – and are most comfortable to use – you might still be baffled by some of the terminology used.

We've listed some of the phrases you might see when you're looking for a pulse oximeter, and what they mean:

  • SpO2 readingA measurement of how much oxygen is in your blood. Every pulse oximeter has this feature, as it's the main thing they're designed to measure. A SpO2 reading of less than 92% (or 88% for those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can suggest someone is seriously ill and needs immediate medical attention.
  • Pulse rateThe number of times your heart beats per minute. For a healthy adult, this is usually around 60-100bpm. On most pulse oximeters this is displayed as a number, but it can also be in the form of a bar graph or plethysmographic waveform (a continuous curve showing your heart rate).
  • Perfusion indexUsually only pricier pulse oximeters will have this feature. It measures the ratio of pulsating to non-pulsating blood in your finger, and is used as an indication of how strong your blood flow is. Most people are unlikely to need this on a regular basis, and we don't test it in our lab.
  • Display orientationSome pulse oximeters give you the option to rotate the display so it's easier to read when the device is on your finger.
  • OLED screenMost devices have basic LCD screens, but a handful have slightly more advanced OLED screens.

What about smart rings or smartwatches that have pulse oximetry features?

An increasing number of smartwatches and fitness trackers have pulse oximetry features, and there's even a dedicated smart ring for this.

However, it's important to note that these are usually not registered medical devices, and are more for sports-based interest and fitness optimisation than medical monitoring.

You can see our review of the Viatom Sp02 smart ring for our first impressions of this unusual gadget, and check our guide to how wearable tech can help you track your health for more on pulse oximetry features on smartwatches and fitness trackers.

Read our guide to the best blood pressure monitors - we also explain the different types to help you choose

How to use a pulse oximeter effectively

Best pulse oximeters 2024: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice - Which? (2)

If you've been told by a medical professional that you should use a pulse oximeter at home, you need to make sure you're using it as effectively as possible to get the most accurate picture of your health.

Make sure you thoroughly read the instructions that come with your pulse oximeter, but as a general guide, these tips can help to get accurate readings:

  1. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before using the pulse oximeter. The finger you are going to use shouldn't have any nail varnish or a false nail on it, as these make it hard to obtain an accurate reading.
  2. Ensure your hand is warm to the touch, then sit down and let it rest on your chest for about five minutes before switching on the pulse oximeter.
  3. Attach the clip of the pulse oximeter onto your index finger (the finger next to your thumb) or your middle finger, and wait for the readings to appear on the screen.
  4. Once the numbers have stopped changing and reached a steady average, record your readings. You can then remove the pulse oximeter and put it away until you need it next.

If you ever encounter readings that look slightly out of the ordinary (a little too high or low), take a break before repeating the steps listed above. If it happens again, you should contact your medical provider for further assistance.

For more tips, check the NHS guide to treating Covid at home or this useful NHS video guide to using a pulse oximeter.

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Best pulse oximeters 2024: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice - Which? (2024)

FAQs

Best pulse oximeters 2024: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice - Which? ›

The Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is our best overall pick because it's straightforward, easy to use, and accurate. The large display provides clear readings of your oxygen saturation levels and pulse rate.

What is the best most accurate pulse oximeter? ›

The Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter is our best overall pick because it's straightforward, easy to use, and accurate. The large display provides clear readings of your oxygen saturation levels and pulse rate.

On which finger oximeter is the best? ›

When it comes to choosing the finger for pulse oximeter readings, the general consensus is that the middle finger or the index finger provides the most accurate results. These fingers are typically preferred due to their adequate blood flow and the thickness of the skin in the fingertip area.

What oximeter do doctors use? ›

Pulse oximeters can measure blood oxygen saturation levels by sending light through the skin painlessly. Pulse oximeters have been used in hospitals and doctors' offices for decades. The small, painless devices measure blood oxygen saturation, which helps doctors decide how to treat patients.

What is top number on pulse oximeter? ›

Record the two numbers you see. One is your oxygen saturation level, and the other is your heart rate.

Which pulse oximeters are FDA approved? ›

Masimo announced it received FDA clearance of MightySat Medical, making it the first and only FDA-cleared medical fingertip pulse oximeter available over-the-counter direct to consumers without a prescription.

How to choose a pulse oximeter? ›

Measurement reliability: it is recommended to choose a pulse oximeter that has obtained CE certification and meets the ISO 8061-2-61 standard. The user should also refer to the instruction manual for the exact margin of error stated by the manufacturer.

What is the best position for a pulse oximeter? ›

Make sure your hand is warm, relaxed, and below heart level if attaching the device here. Place the device on your finger, earlobe, or toe. Keep the device on for as long as needed to monitor your pulse and oxygen saturation. Remove the device once the test is over.

Are cheap pulse oximeters accurate? ›

In clinical scenarios, such as critical illness, factors such as motion artifact and vasoconstriction are likely to play a significant role and further degrade the accuracy of low-cost pulse oximeters, perhaps to a greater degree than more expensive units.

What is a normal pulse rate on an oximeter? ›

An ideal blood oxygen level is between 95% and 99%. An ideal heart rate is between 50 and 90 beats per minute (bpm). You will need to alert your doctor or 111 if it drops below 95% and your heart rate goes above 100.

Which toe is best for a pulse oximeter? ›

Choose the right toe: While it may seem like any toe will do, it's important to choose the right one. The big toe is typically the best option, as it tends to have the most consistent circulation. Make sure your toe is warm: Cold toes can affect circulation and, in turn, affect the accuracy of pulse oximeter readings.

What is a dangerously low oxygen level? ›

People should contact a health care provider if their oxygen saturation readings drop below 92%, as it may be a sign of hypoxia, a condition in which not enough oxygen reaches the body's tissues. If blood oxygen saturation levels fall to 88% or lower, seek immediate medical attention, says Dr. Lutchmansingh.

How long should an oximeter stay on a finger? ›

The reading takes time to steady. Keep the pulse oximeter in place for at least a minute, or longer if the reading keeps changing. Record the highest result once the reading has not changed for five seconds. Be careful to identify which reading is your heart rate and which is your oxygen level.

What oxygen level is too low for the elderly? ›

People over 70 years of age may have oxygen levels closer to 95%. Normal oxygen saturation levels (SpO2) are between 95 to 100 percent for both adults and children. Oxygen saturation levels below 95% are considered abnormal, and the brain may be affected when SpO2 levels drop below 80 to 85 percent.

What is the lowest oxygen level before death? ›

1 For most healthy adults and children, a normal oxygen saturation level is between 95% and 100%. 2 Hypoxemia occurs with lower levels of oxygen in the blood and can lead to complications or even death at dangerously low levels below 90%.

Is 92 a good oxygen level? ›

Low oxygen level, also called hypoxemia, is considered a reading between 90% and 92%. A reading this low means you might need supplemental oxygen or that there may be challenges that affect how your lungs function. A result below 90% indicates that you should seek medical attention.

What is a normal pulse oxygen level? ›

What do certain pulse oximeter readings mean? A resting oxygen saturation level between 95% and 100% is regarded as normal for a healthy person at sea level. At higher elevations, oxygen saturation levels may be slightly lower.

Is an oxygen level of 94 bad? ›

90% or less This oxygen level is very concerning and may indicate a severe medical problem. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. You may need an urgent X-ray or heart test. 91% to 94% This oxygen level is concerning and may indicate a medical problem.

How accurate are fingertip pulse oximeters? ›

Prescription oximeters typically have an accuracy rate that's around 4% above or below a reading. So an oxygen level of 92% could actually be as low as 88% or as high as 96%. Pulse oximeter readings also tend to be most accurate at levels higher than 90%. Listen to your body.

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