Oxygen is a vital element for human life. Deprived of oxygen, we can only survive a few minutes before or bodies incur irreparable damage or death. When we breathe oxygen, it enters our lungs and is eventually absorbed into the blood stream. To carry the oxygen, we produce hemoglobin within our blood. The hemoglobin acts like a transporter for the oxygen. As it flows through blood vessels going into the lungs, the hemoglobin continuously travels through smaller and smaller blood vessels until it reaches the alveoli, which are small microscopic air sacs wrapped in tiny blood vessels. In the alveoli, oxygen passes through the thin blood vessels to be attached to hemoglobin. T he heart then pumps the now oxygenated blood throughout the body. Pulse Oximeter are devices that can measure how much oxygen is traveling around on the hemoglobin. The reading people see on an Oximeter display is the percent of oxygen that is currently bound to hemoglobin and available to the body to use.
Pulse oximeters are often used during activities that may result in oxygen concentrations decreasing in the blood. While flying in an aircraft that is not pressurized, the oxygen levels within the atmosphere, at higher elevations may not be a suitable concentration to provide the amount of oxygen we need to live. An oximeter can help the pilot recognize lower levels of oxygen so the altitude can be lowered to a level of appropriate oxygen or start supplemental oxygenation. A new trend in sports has been hypoxic training where the body is partially deprived of some oxygen to improve performance and endurance. To be safe some athletes, under medical supervision, use an oximeter to determine the level of hypoxicity during such trainings. Another major sport that uses oximeters frequently is free diving. Free divers dive deep without using scuba air tanks to breathe. To train for diving, divers practice holding their breath while on dry land. Using an oximeter, they can monitor their oxygen levels to determine how long they can safely hold their breath.
Many people with respiratory health conditions have been using finger oximeters to monitor their oxygen levels. Unlike sportsmen whose oxygen levels are altered mostly due to environmental conditions they train in, individuals with respiratory conditions have problems getting the oxygen from their lungs into their blood where it can be delivered to their organs due to changes in their lungs. Conditions such as sleep apnea, COPD, and chronic bronchitis disrupt oxygen transfer; thus, reducing the amount of oxygen available. Oximeters help individuals monitor their oxygen levels so they can prevent over exerting themselves or know when to call for medical help due to a worsening in their condition.
Since pulse oximeters have been developed that are both affordable and easy to use, there has been an increase in their use in both the sports arena and home healthcare settings. Since sports are continually becoming more competitive, and more people are monitoring respiratory conditions at home, the availability of better oximeters that are designed for specific uses will be increasing in the future.