A pulse oximeter can save your child’s life

Any parent who has taken an asthmatic child to the hospital knows what oxygen saturation levels are. They're the numbers on the screen that tell you if your baby is going to sleep through the night or stop breathing.

With the novel coronavirus outbreak, this is now a number all parents need to know.

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that causes shortness of breath in its more severe cases.

Put another way, if you or your child are suffering from shortness of breath, along with the other typical symptoms of coronavirus, they may have a serious case of COVID-19, and you need to go to the hospital immediately.

If your kids have asthma, you know what shortness of breath looks like:

  • Worker breathing
  • Chest sucking in
  • Wheezing
  • Loss of color to the face

But what if you don't know what to look for? What if this is new to you?

You need to buy a pulse oximeter. In fact, the WHO is urging all countries to stock up on them now.

A pulse oximeter is a little gadget you clip on to your child's finger that generates a number -- that's your child's oxygen saturation level.

Normal levels are between 95% and 100%, and anything below 90% is considered hypoxemia. Hypoxemia can result in shortness of breath, difficulting breathing, and in extreme cases, death. The chart below shows when you need to worry.

Note that pregnant women are also at increased risk.

Target Oxygen Saturation Levels

Non-pregnant adults

Pregnant adults


Children with complications*

> 89%

> 91%



*Complications include obstructive dyspnea, apnea, severe respiratory distress, central cyanosis, shock, coma or convulsions. Source for table

How to use a pulse oximeter correctly

A good pulse oximeter is really easy to use. Once you install the batteries or charge it up, all you need to do is put your or your child's finger into the slot and click it back into place. This great explainer shows how it's done. It's not one of the ones we recommend below, but they mostly all worth the same way.

What are the best pulse oximeters to use?

Luckily, most pulse oximeters aren't expensive, and as of this writing (5th March 2020), they're still widely available.

Here are a few recommendations.

If you can afford the best

iSpO2 (Micro USB Connector with Small Sensor for Android Device) $$$$

ACCURATE WHEN YOU NEED IT MOST: Uses Masimo SET technology for accurately measuring oxygen saturation and pulse rate even during movement or low blood flow
DO MORE WITH YOUR DATA: Display, track, trend, and share your data on compatible Android devices through the free & easy-to-use Masimo Personal Heath App

5 of 5 Stars

CMI Handheld Pulse Oximeter - with Adult and Infant (Under 20 lbs) Sensor $$$

ACCURATE & RELIABLE: Accurately measures SpO2 and Pulse Rate monitor. Adjustable audio alarm threshold for both SpO2 and Pulse Rate. Measuring accuracy for SpO2 is no greater than 3% between 70%~100% and 2% for Pulse Rate.

INFANT FRIENDLY: Our infant foot wrap sensor is designed and tested to provide accurate readings and comfortable fit.

4 of 5 Stars

The best for most people

Deluxe SM-110 Two Way Display Finger Pulse Oximeter with Carry Case & Neck/Wrist Cord $$

ACCURATE AND RELIABLE - Consistently beat other pulse oximeter in terms of accuracy and reliability during clinical tests.

READY TO USE OUT OF THE BOX - Include 2X AAA Batteries and a Lanyard for convenience.

4.5 of 5 Stars

If you're on a budget

Contec CMS50DL Finger Pulse Oximeter Oximetry Saturation Monitor $

BRIGHT LED DISPLAY: The bright LED display allows use in low light. This bright display is viewable in any environment - from dark surroundings to bright sunlight.

ACCURATE: The gold standard for accuracy. SP02 Accuracy is +- 1% (70-99%) Pulse Rate Accuracy is +- 1 bpm.

4.5 of 5 Stars

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Carter Hopkins

Carter is a former US Army Ranger, US Army intelligence officer, and counterintelligence officer with the Defence Intelligence Agency. He has a BA in Political Science from UCLA and an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown.

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