Oxygen saturation monitoring

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Learn about oxygen saturation monitoring, a diagnostic test that measures oxygen in a child's blood. A test may indicate a need for oxygen therapy.

Key points

  • Oxygen saturation monitoring is a method of measuring the amount of oxygen in the blood.
  • To monitor your child's oxygen saturation, a sensor placed over your child's finger or toe measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. The sensor does not hurt.
  • If oxygen levels are found to be lower than expected, your child's health-care team will determine reasons why.

What is oxygen saturation monitoring?

Oxygen saturation monitoring measures the amount of oxygen in your child's blood. It helps the health-care team know if your child’s body is getting the oxygen it needs. It also tells them if your child's body is correctly using the oxygen your child is breathing.

What does oxygen saturation mean?

Oxygen saturation refers to the amount of oxygen your child's red blood cells are carrying. If your child is in good health, the majority (95% to 100%) of their red blood cells are full of, or saturated with, oxygen. People breathing regular air usually have an oxygen saturation of above 95%.

Why does your child's oxygen saturation need to be monitored?

There are many reasons why oxygen saturation is monitored. For example, an illness or medications that affect breathing can lead to lower oxygen levels. Monitoring oxygen saturation allows the health-care team to decide if your child needs extra, or supplemental, oxygen to help them. Oxygen saturation monitoring is also used to screen for congenital heart problems in newborns and can be part of an assessment of children who have obstructive sleep apnea.

How does oxygen saturation monitoring work?

A long, thin cord is attached to the monitor. This connects to a cover called a probe (also called a sensor). The probe is put over your child's finger or toe. The probe has a small red light on one side and a detector on the other side. The red light shines through your child's finger or toe and is seen by the detector on the other side. The detector measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. This way of checking oxygen is called pulse oximetry.

Will the monitor or probe hurt your child?

No. The monitor and the probe are completely safe. The probe will be applied securely but not tightly to your child's finger or toe. This does not hurt. The probe is regularly rotated from one location to another to make sure it is working properly.

Who should touch your child's monitor?

A health-care team member can touch the monitor and the stickers or probes attached to your child. In the hospital, do not change the alarm settings or turn the monitor off. If your child uses an oxygen saturation monitor at home, you will be trained to use the monitor on your own.

What makes the monitor alarm go off?

A health-care team member will set ranges on the monitor based on your child's age, illness and vital signs. If your child's heart rate or oxygen level go outside these ranges, an alarm will go off. The alarm alerts the health-care team so that your child can be checked.

How long will your child be connected to the oxygen saturation monitor?

Most children who need to have their oxygen level measured constantly are connected to the monitor at all times. Some children may only need to be connected to the monitor when other vital signs are measured. Your child's health-care team will decide how long your child needs to be connected to the monitor.

What happens if your child's oxygen levels are low?

If oxygen levels are found to be low, your child will receive oxygen in concentrations higher than would be present in the regular air we breathe. Extra, or supplemental, oxygen can be administered to your child in a variety of ways. Depending on your child's condition, the health-care team may need to determine why the levels are lower than expected.

Last updated: April 2nd 2024