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Need a pulse oximeter? These models are in stock starting at $20

Don't pay jacked-up prices to measure your heart rate and blood oxygen saturation.

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

Raise your hand if you hadn't heard of a pulse oximeter until several weeks ago, when this New York Times op-ed piece freaked everyone out with talk of "the infection that's silently killing coronavirus patients." Now raise your hand if you scrambled to buy a pulse oximeter and found them either out of stock or significantly price-gouged. (I ordered one from Walmart for $30; a few days later the price was up to $50.)

But there's some good news: Pulse oximeters are in stock at some stores, and although you'll still pay more than you would have several weeks ago, there are still decent deals. Whether or not you actually need one is a different story. I highly 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 pulse oximeters on the 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 inaccurate oxygen level readings. Which raises the question: Should you even bother buying a pulse oximeter?

I'll leave that to you to decide. Here are three pulse oximeter options, all in stock at the time of this writing, at three different prices.  

Anself

Before the pandemic hit, you could find a pulse oximeter in your local drugstore for about this price. It's hard to say for sure how well this pulse oximeter works when it comes to measuring pulse rate and the oxygen saturation level in your blood (the product page currently shows no user ratings), but it looks similar to countless others -- just without the $50 price tag. Note that the seller here is not Walmart proper, but rather Joybuy, and that shipping is expected to take 10-15 days.

Tomtop

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 pulse oximeter has no user ratings, and although it's shown to be "FDA registered," it's not FDA approved. It's a roll of the dice.

AccuMed

Although this finger pulse oximeter is sold out at Amazon (where it has a respectable 4.3-star average rating from nearly 1,900 buyers), you can get this popular model from AccuMed proper. And it's FDA-cleared, meaning it should work as advertised. 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 better to rely on medical-grade gear?

Now playing: Watch this: How pulse oximeters measure your blood oxygen levels
6:14

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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.