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  • Writer's picturePulse Oximeter World

Smoking and Pulse Oximetry: Impact on Oxygen Saturation Levels


man smoking affect pulse oximetry

Smoking is a well-known cause of respiratory disease, and it can also have a significant impact on the accuracy of pulse oximetry readings. When a person smokes, they inhale a combination of chemicals, including carbon monoxide (CO). CO is a toxic gas that binds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells, reducing the amount of oxygen that can be carried by the blood. This results in a lower oxygen saturation level in the blood, which can affect the accuracy of pulse oximeter readings.


A study published in the Journal of Anesthesia & Clinical Research found that smoking can decrease oxygen saturation levels by up to 3%. In the study, 26 smokers and 26 non-smokers were tested with a pulse oximeter. The smokers had significantly lower oxygen saturation levels than the non-smokers. The researchers concluded that smoking can affect the accuracy of pulse oximetry readings, especially in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other respiratory diseases.


Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Monitoring and Computing found that pulse oximetry readings were less accurate in smokers than in non-smokers. The study involved 38 smokers and 40 non-smokers who underwent pulse oximetry measurements while breathing air or 16% oxygen. The researchers found that smokers had significantly lower oxygen saturation levels than non-smokers, even when breathing air. When breathing 16% oxygen, the difference in oxygen saturation levels between smokers and non-smokers was even more significant.




In addition to affecting the accuracy of pulse oximetry readings, smoking can also increase the risk of respiratory complications during and after surgery. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia found that smokers who underwent surgery were more likely to experience respiratory complications than non-smokers. The researchers concluded that smoking cessation should be encouraged prior to surgery to reduce the risk of postoperative respiratory complications.


The American Thoracic Society (ATS) recommends that smokers refrain from smoking for at least two hours prior to a pulse oximetry measurement to obtain an accurate reading. However, quitting smoking altogether is the best way to improve lung function and oxygen saturation levels in the blood.


In conclusion, smoking can have a significant impact on the accuracy of pulse oximetry readings. Smokers tend to have lower oxygen saturation levels, which can lead to inaccurate readings, especially in patients with respiratory diseases. If you are a smoker, it is important to inform your healthcare provider, and you should refrain from smoking for at least two hours prior to a pulse oximetry measurement. Additionally, quitting smoking altogether can improve lung function and oxygen saturation levels in the blood, reducing the risk of respiratory complications during and after surgery.


What does this mean for you? Using a finger based pulse oximeter is considered to be accurate and reliable for most situations. Just keep in mind if you are a smoker, that your blood oxygen saturation levels will most likely be lower than the actual reading provided by your pulse oximeter. Check out our review of the MIBEST finger pulse oximeter.





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