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What is oximetry?
How is oximetry done?
This is done using an oximeter, a photoelectric device specially designed for this purpose. A reusable probe can be placed on the finger or a single use tape probe is placed on the earlobe or finger.
What are pulse oximeters?
The oximeters most commonly used today are called pulse oximeters because they respond only to pulsations, such as those in pulsating capillaries of the area tested.
How common are oximeters?
Oximeters are now a virtual fixture in intensive care units, pulmonary units and elsewhere in hospitals and health care facilities.
How does a pulse oximeter function?
A pulse oximeter works by passing a beam of red and infrared light through a pulsating capillary bed. The ratio of red to infrared blood light transmitted gives a measure of the oxygen saturation of the blood. The oximeter works on the principle that the oxygenated blood is a brighter color of red than the deoxygenated blood, which is more blue-purple. First, the oximeter measures the sum of the intensity of both shades of red, representing the fractions of the blood with and without oxygen. The oximeter detects the pulse, and then subtracts the intensity of color detected when the pulse is absent. The remaining intensity of color represents only the oxygenated red blood. This is displayed on the electronic screen as a percentage of oxygen saturation in the blood.
Are there other types of oximetry?
Yes. Oximetry can also be done on blood that is within the heart (intracardiac oximetry) or on whole blood that has been removed from the body. More recently, using a similar technology to oximetry, carbon dioxide levels can be measured at the skin as well.
Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
Mechem, C. Crawford, M.D. "Pulse oximetry." UptoDate. Updated Apr. 6, 2016.
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Mechem, C. Crawford, M.D. "Pulse oximetry." UptoDate. Updated Apr. 6, 2016.
Top Oximetry Related Articles
Asthma OverviewAsthma is a condition in which hyperreactive airways constrict and result in symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Causes of asthma include genetics, environmental factors, personal history of allergies, and other factors. Asthma is diagnosed by a physician based on a patient's family history and results from lung function tests and other exams. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting bronchodilators (LABAs) are used in the treatment of asthma. Generally, the prognosis for a patient with asthma is good. Exposure to allergens found on farms may protect against asthma symptoms.
Congenital Heart DiseaseCongenital heart defects are heart problems that are present at birth. Genetics may play a role in some heart defects. Symptoms can range from nonexistent to severe and life-threatening. Fatigue, rapid breathing, and decreased blood circulation are a few possible symptoms of congenital heart defects. Many cases do not require any treatment. Procedures using catheters and surgery may be used to repair severe heart defects.
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung condition caused by smoking tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke, and/or air pollutants. Conditions that accompany COPD include:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Chronic cough
Symptoms of COPD include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chronic cough
Treatment of COPD include smoking cessation, medications, and surgery. The life expectancy of a person with COPD depends on the stage of the disease.
COPD vs. Emphysema Differences Similarities
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the term doctors and other health care professionals use to describe a group of serious, progressive (worsens over time), chronic lung diseases that include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes asthma. The number one cause of COPD or emphysema, is smoking, and smoking is the third leading cause of death in the US. When a person first develops COPD, he or she may not have any symptoms. As the disease progresses, the symptoms worsen and become more severe and include:
- Difficulty breathing with exertion or physical activity, which in the advanced stages, eventually leads to breathlessness all of the time.
- Chronic cough
- Excessive phlegm production
- Upper respiratory infections like the flu or common cold.
- A barrel-shaped chest
- A bluish tint to the skin from lack of oxygen
- Chest tightness
- varenicline (Chantix) to quit smoking
- The antidepressant and bupropion (Zyban) to reduce nicotine withdrawals
- Drugs that are prescribed for another condition (off label), for example, nortriptyline (Pamelor) and clonidine (Catapres)
- Short-term bronchodilators, for example, albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil)
- Long-term bronchodilators, for example, salmeterol (Serevent) and formoterol (Foradil)
- Anticholinergic bronchodilators, for example, ipratropium (Atrovent) and tiotropium (Spiriva)
- Combined drugs using steroids and long acting bronchodilators
- Roflumilast (Daxas, Daliresp)
You can prevent getting COPD or emphysema if you:
- Quit smoking and making healthy lifestyle changes
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Avoid home and workplace air pollutants
- Prevent upper respiratory tract infections
There is a genetic cause of COPD called alpha-1 antitrypsin.
CDC. "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)." Updated: Sep 16, 2016.
NIH; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "COPD National Action Plan." Updated: May 15, 2017.
NIH; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "What is COPD?" Updated: Apr 28, 2017.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)." Updated: Oct 31, 2014.
Victoria State Government. "Emphysema." Updated: Nov 2014.
Sharafkhaneh, A. et al. Emphysema. Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2008 May 1; 5(4): 475â€“477. doi: 10.1513/pats.200708-126ET
Boka, K. "Emphysema." Medscape. Updated: Aug 31. 2016.
Kleinschmidt, P. "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Emphysema in Emergency Medicine." Medscape. Updated: Jun 08, 2017.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in the deep veins, and can be caused by broken bones, trauma to a limb, immobility, medications, smoking, cancer, genetic predisposition, and cancer. Symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis in a leg are
- warmth, and
Treatment for DVT include medications and surgery.
Emphysema (Lung Condition)Emphysema is a COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that often occurs with other obstructive pulmonary problems and chronic bronchitis. Causes of emphysema include chronic cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, and in the underdeveloped parts of the world. Symptoms of emphysema include chronic cough, chest discomfort, breathlessness, and wheezing. Treatments include medication and lifestyle changes.
Hypoxia and HypoxemiaHypoxia is a condition in which the normal concentration of oxygen in the blood is not enough for normal life functions. Hypoxemia is a condition in which there is a lower than normal amount of oxygen in arterial blood. Anoxia is a condition in which there is an absence or near absence of oxygen. There are a variety of causes of hypoxia and hypoxemia such as chemical or gas poisonings; lung conditions such as COPD, emphysema, lung cancer, and sleep apnea; medications; heart problems; anemia; and low oxygen concentration due to the lack of concentrated oxygen for example, mountain climbing, aviation, drowning, and fires. Symptoms of hypoxia and/or hypoxemia may be acute such as fast heart rate, rapid breathing, and shortness of breath; or severe symptoms include confusion, the inability to communicate, coma, and sometimes death. Symptoms in children include irritableness, anxiousness, and inattentiveness. Treatment of hypoxia and/or hypoxemia is to provide supplemental oxygen to the body as soon as possible.
Lungs Design And PurposeThe lungs are primarily responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air we breathe and the blood. Eliminating carbon dioxide from the blood is important, because as it builds up in the blood, headaches, drowsiness, coma, and eventually death may occur. The air we breathe in (inhalation) is warmed, humidified, and cleaned by the nose and the lungs.
Nasal Airway SurgeryDeviated septum surgery (septoplasty) and turbinectomy (nasal airway surgery) is performed on individuals who have a deviated or crooked septum or enlarged tissues (turbinates) within the nose. The goal of surgery is to improve breathing, control nosebleeds, relieve sinus headaches, and promote drainage of the sinus cavities. Risks and complications of surgery should be discussed with the surgeon prior to surgery.
Premature Ventricular ContractionsPremature ventricular contractions (PVCs, PVC) are premature heartbeats originating from the ventricles of the heart. PVCs are premature because they occur before the regular heartbeat. There are many causes of premature ventricular contractions to include: heart attack, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, mitral valve prolapse, hypokalemia, hypoxia, medications, excess caffeine, drug abuse, and myocarditis.
Sleep ApneaSleep apnea is defined as a reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep. The three types of sleep apnea are central apnea, obstructive apnea (OSA), and a mixture of central and obstructive apnea. Central sleep apnea is caused by a failure of the brain to activate the muscles of breathing during sleep. OSA is caused by the collapse of the airway during sleep. OSA is diagnosed and evaluated through patient history, physical examination and polysomnography. There are many complications related to obstructive sleep apnea. Treatments are surgical and non-surgical.
SnoringSnoring, like all other sounds, is caused by vibrations that cause particles in the air to form sound waves. While we are asleep, turbulent air flow can cause the tissues of the nose and throat to vibrate and give rise to snoring. Any person can snore. Snoring is believed to occur in anywhere from 30% of women to over 45% of men. People who snore can have any body type. In general, as people get older and as they gain weight, snoring will worsen. Snoring can be caused by a number of things, including the sleep position, alcohol, medication, anatomical structure of the mouth and throat, stage of sleep, and mouth breathing.
TonsillectomyTonsillectomy is the surgical removal of both tonsils. A tonsillectomy may be performed in cases of recurrent tonsillitis, or treat sleep apnea and some speech disorders.