Skin color and ear oximetry

Chest. 1989 Aug;96(2):287-90. doi: 10.1378/chest.96.2.287.


Measurements of arterial blood oxygen saturation from two ear oximeters were compared with 655 simultaneously drawn arterial blood samples in 187 patients grouped by skin color quantified by the Munsell color system. Technical problems including warning lights and messages with the two ear oximeters were recorded. There were significantly more technical problems in patients with the darkest skin color associated with inability to obtain a reading or warning message indicating poor tissue penetration of the signal (18 and 15 percent vs 1 percent). When readings could be obtained, the ear oximetry readings were found to be slightly less accurate in the darker patient groups. These findings suggest that dark skin color may affect the performance and accuracy of ear oximeters, including the newer type of pulse oximeters.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Gas Monitoring, Transcutaneous*
  • Ear, External
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Skin Pigmentation*