How to Use and Troubleshoot Blood Oxygen Monitoring on Apple Watch Series 6

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Apple with the Apple Watch Series 6 introduced a new feature for monitoring blood oxygen level, using the LEDs at the back of the Apple Watch to determine the amount of oxygen in the blood. A low blood oxygen level can be indicative of a serious health issue that needs immediate attention.


Taking a blood oxygen reading is rather straightforward, but there are automatic measurement settings to be aware of as well as necessary tips for getting an accurate measurement, all of which can be found in the guide below.

How Blood Oxygen Readings on Apple Watch Work

The Apple Watch Series 6 is equipped with green, red, and infrared LEDs that shine light onto the blood vessels in the wrist, with photodiodes measuring the amount of light reflected back.


Apple's algorithms use this information to calculate the color of the blood, which is an indication of how much oxygen is in the blood. Bright red blood is well oxygenated, while darker blood has less oxygen.

The Apple Watch Series 6 can measure blood oxygen levels between 70 and 100 percent. Most healthy people have blood oxygen levels that range from 95 to 100 percent, though those with COPD and other lung diseases may have a lower average percentage.


Apple does not expect the Blood Oxygen function in the Series 6 to be intended for medical use, and so the Apple Watch will not send a notification if a lower than normal blood oxygen level is detected.

Hardware Requirements

Using the Blood Oxygen monitoring feature requires an Apple Watch Series 6 running the latest version of watchOS along with an iPhone 6s or later with the latest version of iOS.

The Blood Oxygen app is available in almost all countries around the world, but if you're not seeing it, it might not be in your country. Apple has a list here.

Note that the Blood Oxygen app is not available to users under 18 and it is not enabled when an Apple Watch has been paired to an iPhone using Family Setup.

Enabling Blood Oxygen Measurements

When you set up a Series 6 Apple Watch, you'll be asked during the setup process if you want to enable Blood Oxygen measurements. If you tap "enable" when asked, the feature will be turned on automatically and will be usable through the Blood Oxygen app.


How to Take a Blood Oxygen Measurement on Apple Watch

  1. Make sure your Apple Watch Series 6 is snug but comfortable on your wrist.

    Open the Blood Oxygen app on your Apple Watch.

    Keep still, and make sure your wrist is flat with the Apple Watch facing upwards.

    Tap Start, then keep your arm steady for 15 seconds.

    Wait for the measurement to be taken - you'll see the result when it's complete. Then tap Done.
You can view blood oxygen measurements taken over days, weeks, months, and years in the Health app on your iPhone. Simply search for "Blood Oxygen."


Automatic Blood Oxygen Readings

In addition to on-demand readings, the Apple Watch Series 6 takes automatic blood oxygen readings throughout the day. Automatic blood oxygen measurements are enabled as long as Blood Oxygen Measurements are turned on and enabled, which is the default setting on the new Apple Watch.

Automatic blood oxygen readings are taken infrequently during the day, so you may only see these measurements a few times throughout your day, a departure from the frequency of heart rate measurements. Blood oxygen readings aren't taken as often simply because the wrist needs to be held still and in a specific orientation for a measurement.

Enabling Automatic Blood Oxygen Readings in Theater Mode

The Apple Watch has a Theater Mode that keeps the display of the Apple Watch dim to prevent it from being a nuisance in dark places like movie theaters, and there's a blood oxygen setting that can enable or disable readings during Theater Mode.

Apple says that blood oxygen readings require the use of a bright red light, which has the potential to be distracting in a dark room. Here's how to enable or disable readings in Theater Mode.



  1. Open up the Settings app on the Apple Watch.
  2. Scroll down and tap on the Blood Oxygen app.
  3. Scroll down and tap the toggle next to "In Theater Mode" to turn the feature on or off.
Enabling Automatic Blood Oxygen Readings During Sleep

As with Theater Mode, Apple has an option to disable blood oxygen readings when the Apple Watch is in Sleep Mode because the bright light might be distracting in the dark. Here's how to enable or disable readings for Sleep Mode.


  1. Open up the Settings app on the Apple Watch.
  2. Scroll down and tap on the Blood Oxygen app.
  3. Scroll down and tap the toggle next to "In Sleep Mode" to turn the feature on or off.
Viewing Blood Oxygen Data

No blood oxygen data can be viewed on the Apple Watch outside of the reading that you just took if you have the app open. Historical data needs to be viewed on the iPhone, and it can be a little bit hard to find.


Here's the easiest way to get to your data.
  1. Open up the Health app on the iPhone.
  2. Tap on Browse at the bottom of the app.
  3. Tap on Vitals or at the top of the app, search for Blood Oxygen.
  4. Tap on the reading that comes up.
From here, you can see your average Blood Oxygen measurements by day, week, month or year, tapping on the chart to see specific information about each reading in day view or ranges for the other view options.


Tapping on "Show More Blood Oxygen Data" provides the latest reading, range over time, daily average, and readings in a High Elevation Environment or during sleep if those apply.

If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the app, there's a "Show All Data" option that you can tap to see all of the blood oxygen measurements that have been taken with specific information on date, barometric pressure, and more.


Turn Off Blood Oxygen Monitoring

Don't want to use blood oxygen monitoring at all? It can be disabled in the Settings app.
  1. Open up the Settings app on the Apple Watch.
  2. Scroll down and tap on the Blood Oxygen app.
  3. Tap on the toggle next to "Blood Oxygen Measurements" to turn the feature off.
If you want to reenable blood oxygen readings at a later date, just turn the toggle back on. It's enabled by default when you set up the Apple Watch, so the only reason you might need to enable it is if you've previously disabled it.

Blood Oxygen Troubleshooting

The sensors that measure oxygen level in the blood on the Apple Watch are highly sensitive and the reading will fail even if there's minor movement. If you're frequently getting an "Unsuccessful Measurement" warning, make sure to follow these steps.
  1. Hold your wrist flat and face up, with your fingers also resting open. Blood oxygen measurements will not work if the arm is hanging down or if your fingers are in a fist.
  2. Make sure the Apple Watch is snug against the wrist with a band that fits well and is not too loose or too tight.
  3. Make sure the Apple Watch is flat against the wrist and not impeded by the wrist bone. If it is over the wrist bone, adjust the positioning of the watch.
  4. For more stability, put your wrist on a table or flat surface such as your lap.
  5. Minimize all movement for 15 seconds. The stiller you are, the better.
  6. Don't tap or otherwise engage with the Apple Watch. A tap on the screen or touching the Digital Crown can cause minute movement that disrupts the reading.
If you're following all of the above steps and are still having trouble, Apple warns that there are a few scenarios that can cause poor readings.
  • Tattoos - Dark tattoos in the area where the sensors are located can cause the light that shines through the skin to measure oxygen level to fail to work properly. There's no fix for this, unless there's a non-tattooed wrist area available. Note that lighter tattoos may not interfere with the sensor, and it may also work with those that leave a good amount of skin visible.
  • Cold weather - If it's cold outside, it can affect how much blood flows through your arm at any given time, which in turn can cause blood oxygen measurements to fail.
  • Skin perfusion - Regardless of weather, sometimes the blood flowing through the skin is slower, and this can vary significantly from person to person. Skin perfusion is a factor in how well the blood oxygen measurements work.
  • High heart rate - If your heart rate is above 150 beats per minute at rest, the blood oxygen measurement feature will not work.
  • Motion - As mentioned above, blood oxygen measurements tolerate little to no motion at all, and arm position is a factor. Hold the arm straight with your fingers out and try not to move if you're having issues.
Guide Feedback

Have questions about blood oxygen monitoring on Apple Watch Series 6 or want to offer feedback on this guide? Send us an email here.

Article Link: How to Use and Troubleshoot Blood Oxygen Monitoring on Apple Watch Series 6
 
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rjp1

macrumors 6502
Mar 27, 2015
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Apple does not expect the Blood Oxygen function in the Series 6 to be intended for medical use, and so the Apple Watch will not send a notification if a lower than normal blood oxygen level is detected.
Lol - if it isn’t for medical use, then what is it for?

A lot of people have benefitted from the other notifications and then seeking treatment. It is strange that they aren’t going to send notifications for this also.
 
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Craiger

macrumors 6502a
Jul 11, 2007
841
225
I would suggest NOT using it right now. I get readings that bounce from 86% to 100% back to back while my clip on finger sensor is sitting steady at 97-98. There's just no reason to trust any reading you get from the watch at this point. maybe it will get better in the future, but I feel bad for GP's getting calls about their O2 levels being low from this watch.
 
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Henk Poley

macrumors 6502
Sep 22, 2008
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I would suggest NOT using it right now. I get readings that bounce from 86% to 100%
Wouldn't be surprised if they capped it at >86% so it doesn't worry anybody. Quoting Wikipedia: "Anything below 86% is considered severe"

But yeah, the measurements are very wobbly.
 
Last edited:

69Mustang

macrumors 604
Jan 7, 2014
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In between a rock and a hard place
Lol - if it isn’t for medical use, then what it is for?

A lot of people have benefitted from the other notifications and then seeking treatment. It is strange that they aren’t going to send notifications for this also.
Claiming medical use requires FDA testing and approval. An involved process that would have meant the feature wouldn't have been ready for AW6.
I would suggest NOT using it right now. I get readings that bounce from 86% to 100% back to back while my clip on finger sensor is sitting steady at 97-98. There's just no reason to trust any reading you get from the watch at this point. maybe it will get better in the future, but I feel bad for GP's getting calls about their O2 levels being low from this watch.
Dave2D had the same complaint: inaccurate reading. He suggested removing the watch from the wrist and taking the measurement against a finger. Supposedly increased his accuracy.
 

basher

macrumors 6502
May 27, 2011
485
32
Glendale, AZ USA
Claiming medical use requires FDA testing and approval. An involved process that would have meant the feature wouldn't have been ready for AW6.

Dave2D had the same complaint: inaccurate reading. He suggested removing the watch from the wrist and taking the measurement against a finger. Supposedly increased his accuracy.
Thanks for sharing the video.
 

bernoulli

macrumors member
Sep 13, 2018
97
252
England
Claiming medical use requires FDA testing and approval. An involved process that would have meant the feature wouldn't have been ready for AW6.

Dave2D had the same complaint: inaccurate reading. He suggested removing the watch from the wrist and taking the measurement against a finger. Supposedly increased his accuracy.
so what’s the point of a wrist pulse oximeter if it doesn’t work on the wrist?
 
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69Mustang

macrumors 604
Jan 7, 2014
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In between a rock and a hard place
so what’s the point of a wrist pulse oximeter if it doesn’t work on the wrist?
Not sure if your question is rhetorical, but I have no idea. Probably because that's where a watch goes. No snark. The feature is just one of many on the AW and the AW is worn on the wrist. There are probably better places for a stand alone dedicated pulse oximeter, but this feature ain't that.
 

bernoulli

macrumors member
Sep 13, 2018
97
252
England
Not sure if your question is rhetorical, but I have no idea. Probably because that's where a watch goes. No snark. The feature is just one of many on the AW and the AW is worn on the wrist. There are probably better places for a stand alone dedicated pulse oximeter, but this feature ain't that.
it wasn’t directed at you per se
 

centauratlas

macrumors 65816
Jan 29, 2003
1,270
1,983
Florida
Not sure if your question is rhetorical, but I have no idea. Probably because that's where a watch goes. No snark. The feature is just one of many on the AW and the AW is worn on the wrist. There are probably better places for a stand alone dedicated pulse oximeter, but this feature ain't that.
I bet it will be one of those things that improves with time. It may be similar to afib detection which wasn't an initial feature, but used in a study. Perhaps there will be an O2 related study?

That said, I'd like to have the option to turn on an alert to let the wearer know it is low.
 

69Mustang

macrumors 604
Jan 7, 2014
7,518
14,222
In between a rock and a hard place
I bet it will be one of those things that improves with time. It may be similar to afib detection which wasn't an initial feature, but used in a study. Perhaps there will be an O2 related study?

That said, I'd like to have the option to turn on an alert to let the wearer know it is low.
Without FDA approval, I seriously doubt that would happen. One word: liability. Four words: it ain't worth it. It's much more financial prudent to not have the option at all than risk someone claiming "diagnosis" then litigation. I can almost hear someone typing, "They can make people sign a waiver". Heh, they can also not offer the option. One still comes with a higher chance of litigation than the other. Besides, not having that option isn't going to affect AW sales and at the end of the day, that's why the product exists: sales.
 

wackymacky

macrumors 68000
Sep 20, 2007
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38°39′20″N 27°13′10″W
Lol - if it isn’t for medical use, then what is it for?

A lot of people have benefitted from the other notifications and then seeking treatment. It is strange that they aren’t going to send notifications for this also.
A purported use for it is endurance training. Recovery time of oxygen saturation can be used to work out exercise schedules, particular training at altitude.

Given clip on finger pulse oximeters that are likely more accurate and well built celebrated ones can be bought for ~ $20 I'm not sure if anyone would buy the Apple Watch for this though.
 

dominicperry

macrumors newbie
Jun 6, 2020
8
3
I have an SpO2 of 91-95% at all times, (as measured by fingertip and wrist mounted sensors, including hospital SpO2 meters). I can find no credible information about what this low level means, what causes it, or what to do about it from either internet searches or discussions with my doctor. So I'm not sure what anyone else will do with the information.......
 

JulianL

macrumors 65816
Feb 2, 2010
1,257
212
London, UK
For me the big problem is with the automated readings. I see readings as low as 82% but if I happen to notice a really low automated reading taken only a few minutes earlier I immediately take a manual reading and that never comes in below 98% and is usually 100% which makes me think that many of my automated background readings are inaccurate. I hope that maybe Apple can improve the accuracy of the automated readings by fine-tuning the algorithm that detects when the wrist is in a good state (level, upright and still) to take an accurate reading otherwise maybe we will need to wait until next year for S7 to hopefully deliver improved sensors. Right now the feature is less useful than I had hoped due to these inaccurate background readings.
 
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