How a pulse oximeter works in wearable electronics: How accurate and is it needed

We understand what a SpO2 sensor is and whether it is worth paying attention to the level of oxygen in the blood.

In the fall of last year, the Apple Watch 6 smartwatch with the function of measuring oxygen in the blood was presented.

Despite the fact that the “apple” watch is not the first to offer the SpO2 feature, their release has become an impetus for manufacturers of wearable electronics to introduce it.

This feature is aimed at a wide audience and is especially relevant in the era of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another thing is that not everyone understands what kind of sensor it is, how it works, and what the numbers on the display mean. Let’s figure out what this function is and why you shouldn’t ignore it.

What is a pulse oximeter?

SpO2 is the oxygen saturation level of the blood. The more oxygen, the higher the SpO2 display. Therefore, it is quite logical that the higher the indicator, the better.

And the lower, the more reason to sound the alarm that not everything is in order with your health. To help you navigate better, you need to know that a normal blood oxygen level is between 95% and 99%.

Determining the level of oxygen in the blood is a useful and significant function that is present in modern smartwatches and fitness bracelets, which allows you to avoid a number of negative health effects.

Its measurement is prescribed not as often as, for example, in the case of determining the level of sugar in the blood. But it is also a dynamic indicator that can change based on various factors.

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In wearable gadgets, the SpO2 sensor works like a heart rate monitor that is attached to the wrist. The measurement takes place using waves of a certain length (usually infrared light), which “see” the level of hemoglobin in the blood vessels. These are red blood cells that contain oxygen and carry it throughout the body. Its replenishment occurs through breathing.

How accurate are the measurements?

But a number of experts say wearable devices with a SpO2 sensor can be more problematic than helpful. And the thing is that no matter how high accuracy the sensor for measuring the oxygen level in the blood is installed, it is not sinless and can be wrong.

Errors may not be critical and reach only a few percent. But the trick is that the SpO2 indicator is such that a deviation from the norm by 3-5% is considered dangerous, and by 10% it is completely critical.

Given that, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, many users will begin to actively use this sensor, it is likely that it will add work to doctors, the indicators will be contradictory and users will be misled, and if it falls below the permissible level, they will run to the doctors.

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It is worth remembering that the pulse oximeter built into a wearable gadget is not a medical device. The sensor is not certified and does not receive regulatory approval. Its indicators are not intended for medical purposes, this is not a reason to start self-medication and diagnose disease.

This is just a reason to seek medical advice. And do not forget that even finger pulse oximeters sometimes make mistakes, although they are more accurate.

We monitor health

But nevertheless, it will not be superfluous to monitor the level of oxygen in the blood even though the SpO2 sensor is built into the wearable gadget.

First of all, for those who are actively involved in sports and those who suffer from lung disease. Such devices can potentially warn of the presence of health problems, draw attention to the fact that not all is well.

This function is also useful for detecting the symptoms of apnea in the blood. This is a condition when, due to a lack of oxygen in the blood, breathing becomes difficult and a person constantly wakes up at night.

A wearable gadget with a SpO2 sensor warns of problems, including coronavirus, and forces you to seek medical help.

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Continuous monitoring of oxygen levels in the blood will provide the necessary information to help diagnose major changes in the body. They can signal the development of asthma, anemia, and other disorders.

The SpO2 sensor may well act for those who will force you to see a doctor and this help will be timely.

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