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Managing COVID-19 at home

How do I check my oxygen level, heart rate (pulse),respiratory rate (breathing) and temperature?

It is important to know how to use this equipment to monitor your health at home.

It is helpful for others in your home to also know how to use this equipment to assist you, especially if you become quite ill. 

Oxygen level

You could be asked to check your oxygen levels once or twice a day using a small device called a pulse oximeter. The pulse oximeter clips over your finger. It does not hurt and only takes a minute to check.

Not all people with COVID-19 require a pulse oximeter.

You might be given a pulse oximeter by your general practice, hospital or other care provider. You can also purchase one from a pharmacy over the phone or online, and have it delivered to your home.

Some smartphones/smartwatches have a pulse oximeter function. These are not accurate and should not be used.1

If you are looking after a child with COVID-19 and are asked to monitor oxygen levels, you might require a pulse oximeter specially designed for children. You can discuss this with your GP or nurse.

When testing your oxygen:

  1. Remove any nail polish or false nails (these can interfere with the device)
  2. Wash your hands with warm water and thoroughly dry them (the device works best when your hands are warm)
  3. Sit in an upright position
  4. Give your fingers a wiggle and rub to get the blood flowing
  5. Attach the clip to one of your fingers so that the tip of your finger is touching the end of the device. The palm of your hand should be pointing down, and the screen of the pulse oximeter should be pointing up so you can read it
  6. Keep your hand and fingers still
  7. Breathe normally and restfully
  8. After waiting for one minute, record the number next to the SpO2 symbol

Your oxygen level should be 95% or higher. If it is lower than this, then it could be a sign you need a check-up with your GP or nurse, or that it is safer for you to be in hospital.

If you are not getting a reading, or if the reading is under 95%, give your fingers a wiggle, take a few breaths and try the device on a different finger.

If it is still low, follow your My COVID-19 action plan. 

Heart rate (pulse)

Your pulse oximeter can also check your heart rate. Your pulse is your heart rate, and this is the number showing next to the PR (pulse rate) or BPM (beats per minute) symbol.

Some smartphones/smartwatches have a heart rate function, but these are not accurate and should not be used.

If you do not have a pulse oximeter, you can check your heart rate manually by placing your index and middle fingers of one hand on the opposite wrist under the thumb.

With your fingers lightly on your wrist, you can count the number of beats that you feel over a 30-second period of time. You then need to calculate the beats per minute by doubling the number of beats you counted over 30 seconds. This rate is your heart rate.

Respiratory rate (breathing)

Try to relax and breathe normally. Set a timer for 30 seconds, and start to count the number of times you breathe in and out before the time is up. Double this number and this will be your respiratory rate per minute.

If you cannot check your own respiratory rate, think about if you are:

  • breathless when you walk
  • breathless when you are sitting
  • breathless when you are speaking.

Write in your My daily symptom diary next to ‘breathlessness’, if you feel it is getting better, worse or remains the same.


If you do not have a thermometer at home, you can buy one from a pharmacy over the phone or online, and have it delivered to your home. Each thermometer is different, so follow the directions from the manufacturer.

Record your oxygen level, pulse, respiratory rate and temperature in your My daily symptom diary at least once a day.

  1. Greenhalgh T, Knight M, Inada-Kim M, et al. Remote management of COVID-19 using home pulse oximetry and virtual ward support. BMJ 2021;372:n677.
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