Limitations of Pulse Oximeter

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Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive method of monitoring individual’s oxygenation. Whenever a person oxygenation level is unstable, oxygen level assessment is necessary. This kind of scenario is usually seen in intensive care units, emergency and wards areas of a medical facilities. Oximeter reading is usually intended to individuals having respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Aside from its use in oxygenation monitoring, it could also possibly determine ventilation abnormalities. However, detection of hypoventilation is not likely.

Pulse oximeter is proven to be helpful in the medical field. However, the oximeter also has its limitations. Although it can measure the oxygenation level, sad to say it cannot determine oxygen metabolism. Oxygen metabolism is the amount of oxygen used up by an individual. Because of this, carbon dioxide monitoring is necessary.  Oximeter could not be also a good substitute for checking of blood gases levels in laboratories since it gives no indication of base deficit, carbon dioxide levels, blood pH, and bicarbonate concentrations.

Oximeter readings may sometimes be inaccurate as it only reads the percentage of bound hemoglobin. It is important for you to know that hemoglobin could be bound to other gases as well such as carbon dioxide and monoxide. False low readings may occur when there is hypoperfusion of the extremity. This usually occurs when the port is cold or there is vasoconstriction. Erroneous readings can also result from incorrect application of the sensor, a thickly calloused skin and unnecessary movements. Therefore, it is important that the oximeter sensor must be in positioned properly to ensure accuracy. The patient must be warned to avoid any sudden movements. False high or low readings may also take place due to physiologic factors. It is when the hemoglobin binds to something other than oxygen which can eventually lead to cyanide and carbon monoxide poisoning.  Cyanide poisoning can yields a false high reading because it reduces the oxygen extraction from the arterial blood.

Even though there are limitations and flaws in this device, it is still good to know how this simple tool brought a tremendous impact in our everyday lives. With its use, the standard of care of medical institutions worldwide is vastly improved since way back in the 90’s and until in the present wherein modern technologies made the device more sophisticated, improved and refined. Oximeter is one of the medical devices that are essential to human life. Our world may have a hard time coping without it.

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