January 18, 2021
Need a pulse oximeter? These models are still in stock, starting at $24

Need a pulse oximeter? These models are still in stock, starting at $24

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

When the New York Times published an April op-ed piece that freaked everyone out with talk of “the infection that’s silently killing coronavirus patients,” many found it hard to find a pulse oximeter still in stock. They were either significantly price-gouged or out of stock altogether. (I ordered one from Walmart for $30; a few days later the price was up to $50.)

Months later, pulse oximeters are easier to procure — they’re in stock at some stores, and there are still some decent deals to be found. Whether or not you actually need one is a different story. I recommend reading Dale Smith’s CNET report: Can pulse oximeters detect coronavirus? How they work and more.

Pay special attention to the section on accuracy. A pulse oximeter is a medical device that’s meant to measure blood oxygen saturation levels and pulse rate. But do they all do that precisely? While there are tons of options in the pulse oximeters market, not all are FDA-approved for checking your blood oxygen level. What’s more, at least one study found that many of these over-the-counter pulse oximeters produce an inaccurate reading on oxygen level. Which raises the question: If you’re not sure of an accurate reading or normal range, should you even bother buying a pulse oximeter?

I’ll leave that to you to decide. Here are three pulse oximeter options, at three different prices.

Read more: Patches that remotely monitor coronavirus symptoms could help bring people back to work


This model was selling for around $40 just a few weeks ago, and even then it was constantly out of stock. If you don’t mind purple, Walmart has it for a reasonable price with the promise of delivery within just a few days. Also worth noting: There’s US-based phone support should you need it.


If you’re not in a hurry, this model of pulse oximeter in stock ships from China in 10-20 business days — meaning it could take as long as a month to arrive. Amusingly, you’ll receive a random color: black, blue or teal, you don’t get to choose. This fingertip oximeter has no user ratings, and although it’s shown to be “FDA registered,” it’s not FDA approved. So as far as an accurate measurement of vital signs and oxygen saturation in your blood, it’s a roll of the dice.


This finger oximeter is FDA-cleared, meaning it should work as advertised when it comes to monitoring your pulse rate and oxygen saturation level. As Smith wrote in the aforementioned report: “Note that there is a distinction between ‘FDA-approved’ and ‘FDA-cleared,’ with ‘cleared’ being the less rigorous of the two. That said, Class II medical devices like pulse oximeters are usually ‘cleared’ rather than ‘approved.'”

What are your thoughts on these things? Is it worth having a pulse oximeter just in case? Or is it better to rely on a medical professional and medical-grade gear?

Originally posted last month. Updated to reflect price changes and availability.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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