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History and Overview of Pulse Oximetry

Info: 1610 words (6 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Pulse Oximetery

  • Leslie Bruchey

Introduction to Pulse Oximetry

Pulse oximetry has changed the medical field for eternity. The ability to be able to monitor a patient’s oxygen saturation noninvasively has become a standard of care for those who are in the hospital. Pulse oximetry is the ability to measure the oxygen saturation of arterial blood using a pulse oximeter (“Pulse oximetry,n.d”). This allows the body to be externally monitored and help maintain the oxygen saturation. The pulse oximeter allows for someone’s oxygen saturation to be measured in a matter of seconds instead of drawling an arterial blood gas which requires a needle and about fifteen minutes to have the results (“Arterial Blood Gas,” n.d.).

History of the Pulse Oximeter

A pulse oximeter is a device that allows for noninvasive measurement of a person’s oxygen saturation within their body to make sure their body has adequate oxygenation to prevent fatigue, shortness of breath, becoming disoriented or even leave the body with permanent damage (Brite, 2010). Glenn Milikan was able to create a “light-weight optical device” that was able to be placed on the earlobe to monitor pilots oxygen levels while flying during World War II (Tremper, n.d). When Milikan developed this device he used Beer- Lambert’s law which believes that using light and wave length can determine that concentration of a solution (Tremper, n.d). In this case, this theory was able to revolutionize the pulse oximeter. This new technology was able to help give doctors and scientists the ability to look inside the body without making the person uncomfortable, or affect their performance in the pilot’s case. In 1964 a surgeon in San Francisco continued to develop the pulse oximeter and then it started to be distributed by Hewlett Packard in the 1970’s. This pulse oximeter was the first one to be used in a hospital setting and was a large, bulky 35lbs piece of equipment. Not only was it large and bulky, it also cost about ten thousand dollars. (“History of Pulse Oximetry,” 2002).The pulse oximeter has come a long way over the years and has become crucial in the medical field.

How the Pulse Oximeter Works

When thinking about pulse oximetry, one may wonder how a pulse oximeter works. This technology allows the health care professionals to see how well someone is oxygenating their blood. The blood is oxygenated through the lungs and then the blood is pumped from the heart throughout the body to organs and tissues to provide the needed oxygenation (“A Patient’s Guide to Heart,” n.d.). The way the pulse oximeter works is it looks at how oxygenated the blood is. Blood that is holding onto more hemoglobin absorbs more of the light that is provided by the pulse oximeter and allows more red light to pass through. Blood that has less oxygen will not absorb as much, leading to a lower oxygen saturation percentage (“Principles of Pulse Oximetry,” 2002).

Types of Pulse Oximeters

Today’s society, pulse oximeters can come in all different shapes and sizes. In the hospital setting, they can be portable with just as big as a D battery. This type just slips on a finger or ear and then is turned on to have a reading of the person’s oxygen saturation and pulse rate. Another type that is common in a hospital setting is one that is hooked to a monitor in the room and is a piece of tape that can be wrapped around the finger to continuously monitor the oxygen situation. This type is great in an Intensive Care Unit or someone who needs to be monitored closely. Not only are pulse oximeters used in the health care facility, but there also used for personal use, especially for someone who already has compromised lungs and needs to be able to monitor their own oxygen saturation whenever they may feel short of breath or are experiencing other symptoms of low oxygenation. Pulse oximters are easy to obtain online or through a medical supply company. Online a portable pulse oximeter can range from twenty dollars to several hundreds of dollars depending on the brand and the other options that not only pertain to measuring oxygen saturation (“How Much Does a Pulse,” n.d.).

Reasons to Monitor Oxygen Saturation

Some of the reasons that oxygen saturation would be tested is for surgery, procedures that involve sedation, diseases such as COPD, anemia, lung cancer and anything that may compromise the effectiveness of the lungs that would prevent adequate oxygenation of the blood (“Oximetry, n.d.”).With the health care professionals being able to monitor someone’s oxygen saturation, they are able to intervene sooner and prevent further complications.

Oxygen Saturation

The normal range for a person’s oxygen saturation should be between 96% to 99% in someone who has no respiratory issues. For someone who has mild respiratory trouble, their range should be anywhere from 90% and above. When one’s oxygen level becomes less than 90 for an extended period of time, they need to seek medical attention to prevent further complications (“Pulse oximeter readings,” 2010). If someone is experiencing low oxygen saturation, some of the symptoms they could be experiencing are shortness of breath and cyanosis which means the skin may have a blue appearance due to the lack of oxygen rich blood (Veach, 2011). If someone is experiencing these symptoms, they should seek medical attention.

Interventions for Low Oxygen Saturations

If someone is suffering from inadequate oxygenation, there a few different ways to intervene. One way is to place an oxygen mask on the patient. This will allow extra oxygen to support the persons lungs in providing more oxygen and preventing them from working harder to breath (Bateman & Leach, 1998). Also if the situation is not remedied, other inventions may include an invasive arterial blood gas, BIPAP/ CPAP, which will push air into the lungs and support the lungs. All these interventions are imitated based on pulse oximetry monitoring of a patient’s oxygen saturation.


Pulse oximetery has become a revolutionary change in medicine over the years. Now that health care professionals are able to monitor a patient’s oxygen saturation noninvasively at any given time, early intervention can be put in place such as supplemental oxygen to prevent complications or even death. With the invention of the pulse oximeter and the ability to monitor the oxygen saturation without being invasive to the person has become a great contribution. If pulse oximetery and the pulse oximeter were never invented, what would happen to people in the hospital? Would everyone have to be stuck just to find out a basic measurement every few hours? This invention, has allowed people to keep their comfort, while allowing others to have access to needed data to treat them properly. The pulse oximeter has changed the way hospitals and the health care professionals monitor oxygen saturation forever.

Works Cited

A patient’s guide to heart surgery. (n.d.). Retrieved from University of Southern California

website: http://www.cts.usc.edu/

Arterial blood gas. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://almostadoctor.co.uk

Bateman, N., & Leach, R. (1998). Acute oxygen therapy. Retrieved from


Brite, S. (2010). Importance of oxygen monitoring. Retrieved from http://ezinearticles.com/

History of pulse oximetry. (2002, September 10). Retrieved from Oximetry.org website:


How much does a pulse oximeter cost. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2014, from

Google website: http://www.google.com

Oximetry. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org

Principles of pulse oximetry technology. (2002, September 10). Retrieved from

Oximetry.org website: http://www.oximetry.org

Pulse oximetry. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com

Pulse oximeter readings. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.amperorassociates.co.uk

Tremper, K. n.d. Pulse oximetry. Retrieved from http://journal.publications.chestnet.org

Veach, M. (2011, March 10). What are effects of low blood oxygen levels?. Retrieved from



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