Measuring oxygen sats and nailvarnish

I have had two recent trips to hospital and both times the nurses mentioned that the monitor which goes on your finger to measure pulse and oxygen saturation does not work properly if you are wearing nail varnish.

I know this will not concern the gentlemen out there but does it mean for those of us who often need hospital treatment for asthma attacks that special it would be better not to wear nailvarnish?

3 Replies

  • The SATS machine doesn't work so well with nail varnish. I would have thought that asthma and nail varnish doesn't go to well together anyway. I know i can't stay in the room if someone is using it as it makes me cough and wheeze.

  • I tried to do a Medline search on this and there are no citations! Clearly an area where research is lacking - maybe I should do some?

    I asked an anaesthetist friend and he said it really depends on the type of sats probe in use - the more modern ones use infra-red light reflected from the pad at the bottom of the finger, rather than shining light through the finger, so will be less affected by nail varnish. Older sats probes do shine light through the finger and so may be affected by nail varnish, but again it depends on the type, thickness and colour of the varnish.

    Like Ange I don't often use nail varnish, cos the fumes tend to make me wheeze and the salbutamol shakes make it pretty near impossible to put on, but I did have nail varnish on on my last admission, having treated myself to a manicure a few days before. I was concerned it would affect the readings but the SpO2 reading the probe gave was pretty similar to the SaO2 reading on the blood gas, so I guess it was okay.

    I would say if you want to wear nail varnish and can tolerate using it (and can put it on!) go for it - most A&E departments have a bottle of acetone somewhere around which they can use to take it off one finger (although acetone fumes while you're having an attack might not be the best!) or alternatively they can put the probe on your toe or your ear if they think it might not be reading properly.

    Well, that was a complicated answer to a simple question! It probably seems like a trivial thing and I bet the guys are wondering why it is even an issue, but I know that when I am feeling down for whatever reason something small like having a manicure can boost my mood, if my chest can tolerate it. And unlike trying on nice clothes, the pleasure of a manicure and having nice looking nails isn't destroyed by the pred-induced weight gain!

    When I was at work I used to have to keep my nails short and polish-free otherwise Infection Control would be on my case, so being able to treat myself to the occasional manicure is one of the (very few) pleasures of not working!

    Em H

  • Thanks - usefull info plus understanding. A manicure does boost moral though went clothes shopping today and got really nice outfit well reduced in pre chrismas sale. well chuffed especially as high doses of preds for a couple of months have made weight sore up over last few weeks - nothing I have fitted. Also arms covered in unsightly bruises from emergency treatment, bloods etc.

    Have decided to put a small pack of nail varnish remover pads in my hosp bag which is always packed and standing in hall.

    hope you all have a happy chrismas.


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