Commercial pediatric fingertip devices and smartphone applications used to measure oxygen saturation not recommended for infants


Ottawa, Ontario — Tuesday January 16, 2024

Commercial-grade pediatric oximeters, used to measure oxygen saturation levels, are not well suited for use in infants, indicates a first-of-its-kind study led by researchers at the CHEO Research Institute. 

The pulse oximetry measurement is familiar to any parent whose child has needed their oxygen saturation levels measured in hospital for conditions that affect breathing, such as RSV, asthma, or COVID-19. Commercial-grade oximeters are often marketed for home and sport use and have been incorporated in smartphones and other smart devices, as well as being readily available online. 

 Researchers compared hospital-grade oximeters to three consumer-grade products available for purchase online, and the saturation monitor app integrated in a smartphone, on children under the age of 18 years. While the consumer-grade devices tested performed well in larger children with oxygen saturations > 90% and fairly well in small children > 1 y of age, the devices and smartphone application are not well suited for use in infants.  

“While these devices may perform adequately in older children and adults, our study underscores the need for caution and education among parents and caregivers. Relying solely on commercial-grade oximeters for infants may not provide accurate results,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Tom Kovesi, CHEO Pediatric Respirologist and Investigator at the CHEO Research Institute, and Professor at the University of Ottawa, Department of Pediatrics. 

Given the ongoing availability of products like this for consumer purchase both online and in-store, research will continue to be needed to validate their accuracy if they are marketed for pediatric use.  Should parents be concerned with a child’s breathing and oxygen saturation levels, they are encouraged to visit CHEO’s online resources to determine if emergency care is needed.

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