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British Lung Foundation
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Poor circulation affecting finger pulse oximeter readings

hello all, Apparently I have poor circulation in my hands, yesterday at the lung doctor we had 2 oximeters checking different fingers with readings from 89 to 97. then the nurse used an oximeter that clipped onto my earlobe and it read 98, I did have a similar problem in pulmonary rehab while walking on treadmill using the finger oximeter I would be setting their alarm off for low oxygen when I was no where near out of breath, they had me use a forhead probe held in place with a headband and that solved the problem. I started checking for pulse oximeter with an earlobe clip so I could better monitor myself but they seem a bit pricey for me. I was curious if anyone else has this problem,

10 Replies

I have the same problem,Can't rely on finger monitors as the readings are all over the place.

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Hi Dave, thanks. That's a little comforting I hate to say. do You still use an oximeter


Cold hands and if you have poor circulation will indicate false readings..the ear probes are pricey can you not ask the rehabilitation nurses physios for one or advise you where to get one... worth a try xxxx or buy some fingerless gloves to keep your hands warm

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Hi I have the same problem. I have arthritis in my fingers and they bend at the end of them. I was told by PR nurse that I could get a false reading with an finger Oximeter. They always use the earlobe meters. They don't seem to be unduly concerned about this. I also looked into getting a ear one but found them expensive too.


Hi and Thanks for the reply Nottobad I won't be buying one myself either.

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See what I reaped of the web ear ones cost £100-£135 approx.

Ear Pulse Oximeter Probe Guide

How to use an ear pulse oximeter probe

how to use ear oximeter probe

Using a pulse oximeter ear probe sounds straight forward, but in reality, it is not easy for some patients. For an oximeter probe to work properly, the signal must be stable and strong enough for the probe to work. A good signal requires sufficient blood flow and stable contact at the point of measurement. The blood flow at the ear is normally lower than another part of the body. Furthermore, an ear is located at the outer most part of the head; a slight movement of the head would be amplified at the ear.

If you encounter problems, try different parts of the ear and follow the guidelines below.

If you suspect that your probe is not working, clip the probe onto your finger to see if you can get an accurate reading. If you have a good reading, then either you are not using the probe correctly or the blood perfusion at the ear is too low for your oximeter/probe.

If not used properly, you would get a "finger out" or "error" message. Sometimes, you would just get a low reading. The key to having good contact on the ear as an unstable probe would not work.

Follow the following procedure when using an ear oximeter probe:

Use an alcohol pad to massage the patient's earlobe gently for 10 to 20 seconds. Mild erythema (redness) indicates adequate blood perfusion. The ear is very susceptible to vasoconstriction due to cold or hypovolemia.

Attach the ear probe to the patient's earlobe or another visible part of the ear (pinna). Center the ear probe with the LED side toward the head on the lower, fleshy part of the ear. The part has to have enough blood flow to give a good and strong reading.

Be certain that the LED light detector is fully covered by the ear tissue and not exposed to light in the room. Outside light would interfere with the signal.

Do not press the clip down as this would restrict the blood flow at the point of contact.

Do not position the ear probe where cartilage is present or where it will press against the side of the head.

For measurement for prolonged or exercise testing, an ear probe stabilizer may be required.

Adhesive disks may be used to better secure the probe.

Some agents containing 10-30% methyl salicylate and 2-3% methol can produce local vasodilation, thereby increasing blood perfusion. They can be used to help and are available over the counter.

Leave the probe in place for 3+ minutes until the reading stabilizes. Or take three separate readings and take the average. Make sure you massage the patient's ear each time.

For small babies and children, the ear probe can be used on the cheek from outside to inside the mouth. Make sure the probe is clean.


Thanks Anthony634 that was a very thorough response. I appreciate it . As you found out for us,unfortunately it's not as easy as using the finger pulse oximeter and that doesn't even consider the price of purchasing one. I think I'll just inform any healthcare people examining me not to trust my fingers for a true oxygen reading. Thankyou again for the outstanding response.


I can't hardly use my finger oximeter at rehab because they keep the temperature low to prevent germs in the air. The only trick I know is to warm up your hand before taking a reading. God bless.


Strange I have 2 and both seem to be acting like that when I first switch them on. Maybe should warm hands first.


Try warming up fingers before testing - under warm water - arm pit etc. It works for me.....


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