A new high-tech blood oxygen sensor could be included in your next Garmin

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Garmin’s Pulse Ox technology may be improving.

image credits: techmarmot

Garmin has filed a patent application for a new method of measuring blood oxygen saturation levels, or SpO2, in smartwatches. The patent, which was published on May 12, was initially filed in 2020, suggesting that the technology could be coming soon.

Garmin watches (and rivals like the Fitbit Charge 5) use a combination of red and infrared light beamed onto your wrist from the back of the wristwatch. This can help you figure out what percentage of your blood is oxygenated and whether your SpO2 levels are normal.

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“If you think of your blood as a train and oxygen as the passengers on that train, a pulse oximeter is informing you how packed the train is relative to maximum capacity,” according to Garmin’s current Pulse Ox page. When every seat on the train is occupied by a passenger, the train is said to be at full capacity.”

The released patent, which was first picked up by outdoors website Advnture, differs from current testing methods by including a third LED, which emits red light at a different wavelength in order to obtain a third reading. The watch will calculate a second estimated in-blood percentage of oxygenated haemoglobin based on comparing this third reading to the first two.

Pulse oximeters are beneficial in a variety of situations. When your blood is fully oxygenated, it means you’ve recovered successfully from a strenuous workout. If you have decreasing levels of blood oxygen saturation overnight, you can have sleep apnea. A low SpO2 level may indicate that you should slow down if you’re training at high altitudes — excellent for more adventurous Garmin users.

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Potential medicinal applications

While the patent was only recently disclosed, given that it was submitted in 2020, it comes at an interesting moment, with numerous new Garmin products reported to be on the way.

Will these more accurate Pulse Ox measurements be included in the deluge of watches slated to be revealed in June? This type of reading is usually collected from your finger rather than your wrist in the medical field because you can get a more accurate reading that way. Making wrist-mounted pulse oximeters more accurate is an excellent approach for Garmin to expand its toolkit for future devices, including medical applications.

Patients with asthma, congenital heart disease, and chronic obstructive lung disease may need to monitor their SpO2 levels on occasion, in addition to for training purposes and for those with sleep apnea. Currently, this is done in hospital settings using specialised finger-mounted pulse oximeter devices, but studies like this one from Tel Aviv University suggest that wrist-mounted pulse oximeter sensors are a fantastic method for patients to monitor themselves for extended periods of time.

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Garmin currently declares that its products are “not designed for medical reasons.” Smartwatches, on the other hand, may be just what the doctor ordered as sensor arrays and technology improve.

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