Since the advent of the pandemic this year, the interest in consumer products supporting a pulse oximeter functionality has gone through the roof.
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- 1 What is a Pulse Oximeter?
- 2 Which popular wearable devices today offer monitoring of blood oxygen levels?
- 3 Garmin Watches and Pulse Oximeter feature
- 4 Fitbit Devices and Pulse Oximeter feature availability
- 5 Pulse Oximeters and Apple Watch
- 6 Whoop Respiratory Rate tracking and Pulse Oximetry
- 7 Samsung Galaxy Active Watch and Blood Oximeters
- 8 Xiaomi Mi Band 5 and SpO2 monitoring
What is a Pulse Oximeter?
A pulse oximeter is essentially an electronic device that clips onto a patient’s finger to measure heart rate and oxygen saturation in his or her red blood cells.
Prior to the outbreak of the current virus. one could typically see pulse oximeters in a hospital setting.
Hospitals use these medical devices to monitor the level of oxygen in a patient’s blood and alert the health-care worker if oxygen levels drop below safe levels, allowing rapid intervention.
Why are folks interested in a Pulse Oximeter for personal use?
Pulse oximeters can be helpful in the initial diagnosis of lung-related problems. The central premise around this is that shortness of breath, a symptom of the new virus, can co-relate with low blood oxygen levels.
People are therefore eager to find out ways for monitoring their blood oxygen levels.
As per Mayo Clinic,
“Typically, your blood oxygen saturation level is between 95-100%, which means your blood is carrying as much oxygen as it can. The oxygen levels in your blood tend to remain relatively consistent, even during exercise and sleep. If you stop breathing or have lung issues, your blood oxygen saturation level can fall as less oxygen enters your body.”
Which popular wearable devices today offer monitoring of blood oxygen levels?
Many of the leading wearables today in the market provide some basic features around pulse oximetry and monitoring associated blood oxygen levels. In this article, we look at some of the existing wearables and what they offer when it comes to monitoring SpO2% levels.
Garmin Watches and Pulse Oximeter feature
Garmin today provides a Pulse OX feature on some of its devices. It is however important to note that as per Garmin, the feature and associated data are intended for recreational use only.
Pulse Ox data should not be treated as any type of medical diagnosis or treatment of disease.
Garmin devices use a combination of red and infrared lights with sensors on the back of the device that can help determine the percentage of oxygenated blood (SpO2%) available in your blood.
In general, this value should be 95% or higher in most settings but can be influenced by altitude, activity, and an individual’s health.
Some of the Garmin wearables also allow for Pulse OX monitoring while you are sleeping
According to Garmin, The Forerunner 945, Venu, Vivoactive 4/4S, Captain Marvel, First Avenger, Darth Vader, and Rey smartwatches, will record Pulse Ox readings during your entire stated sleep window.
In order to get a Pulse OX reading, you will have to launch the Pulse OX widget on your Garmin Watch. Give it a few seconds as it calculates the SpO2 levels so that it can give you an assessment of the blood oxygen level.
The problem with using this type of wearable as a Pulse oximeter is that the readings that you get via the device may not be correct all the time. For example, a low SpO2% reading can happen on your Garmin device if your arm position is not correct.
The position can influence the blood flow to your wrist and can adversely affect readings, typically making them lower than they really are.
Fitbit Devices and Pulse Oximeter feature availability
Fitbit has put SpO2 sensors in just about every fitness tracker and smartwatch it’s released in the last few years. Their original goal was to use these sensors to help users who suffer from sleep apnea.
With that in mind, the company never rolled out features that could help users get detailed SpO2 related metrics from their wearable.
This however changed early this year in January when the company rolled out some of the features that can help users measure blood oxygen levels.
A new Estimated Oxygen Variation graph in the U.S. version of the Fitbit app is now available in conjunction with sleep monitoring.
Currently, Fitbit only exposes oxygen level data in the sleep-tracking portion of its app. The levels show a general summary of oxygenation status. Unfortunately, users can’t get a specific percentage reading for non-sleep times.
Pulse Oximeters and Apple Watch
Apple currently does not provide any features on its Apple Watch to monitor blood oxygen levels. Up to this point, Apple focused on heart monitoring and fall detection for its Apple Watch health tracking features.
If we believe many of the Apple watch related rumors, the company might announce a new model of Apple Watch this fall that supports some advanced sleep monitoring as well as SpO2 tracking features.
Whoop Respiratory Rate tracking and Pulse Oximetry
Whoop is at the forefront. Both bio-hacks and athletes loved the features that monitor their recovery. And users who want advanced sleep monitoring system via a wearable also prefer the Whoop’s advanced sleep-tracking features.
Early in April 2020, the company announced a white paper showing how its proprietary respiratory rate tracking feature can help monitor coronavirus. When respiratory rate increases suddenly, it can suggest underlying problems. Please read here for all the details around Whoop’s findings.
That said, the device is relatively expensive (considering the monthly subscription fees) and it does not currently offer measurements of blood oxygen levels.
Samsung Galaxy Active Watch and Blood Oximeters
Samsung phone users have an option to measure their blood oxygen levels using a series of sensors on the back of their Phone.
This requires the use of the ‘Samsung Health’ feature on the device.
Make these measurements using the Stress function in Samsung’s Health app.
Devices such as Galaxy S5, Galaxy Note 4, and Galaxy S10+ come equipped with an oxygen saturation sensor. Many of the newer Samsung Phones however do not include the sensor.
To use this feature, your Samsung phone must have a heart rate sensor.
If this sensor is not available on your Samsung phones, you can connect a third-party wearable that includes a heart rate sensor and then measure your stress using that wearable.
You can also measure your stress using a Samsung smartwatch using the Stress function in Samsung’s Health app with a watch like the Galaxy Watch Active2.
Your heart rate (the heart icon), oxygen saturation (the water droplet icon), and stress level are measured.
Xiaomi Mi Band 5 and SpO2 monitoring
The newly announced Xiaomi Mi Band 5 does come with SpO2 sensors that provide you details around blood oxygen saturation levels.
Looking for a dedicated sphygmomanometer? Luckily, the FDA has cleared many options out there that provide you accurate readings.
Please do note that as per a Yale study, you should consider your options and learn more before you actually go out and shop for a personal oximeter device. There are a few that are still in stock on Amazon and cost less than $30 and worth exploring.