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Near Infrared Regional Saturation (NIRS)

What is NIRS?

It is a simple and painless test that can measure your child’s oxygen levels in the blood. It is similar to another commonly used measurement – the pulse oximeter. The pulse oximeter result is the oxygen level in the blood leaving the heart. The NIRS result is the oxygen level in the blood returning to the heart after all the organs have taken the oxygen they need.

How does it work?

Your child’s blood oxygen levels are measured by placing an adhesive strip on their head and/or back, over the kidneys. The strip has a red light on it that shines through the child’s skin. The strip is then attached to a monitor (called a “NIRS monitor”) by a long wire or cord. Shortly after the strip has been placed on your child’s skin, a number will appear on the monitor that gives your child’s doctor information about the amount of oxygen in different parts of your child’s body.

With children, conditions can change fast, so it is important to stay ahead of their changing needs. This tool gives the health care team a “first alert” to changes in how your child is using oxygen in their body. Because the regional saturation can vary widely between patients, the value on the monitor isn’t as important as the trend – how much the result changes over time.

Can this test hurt my child?

NIRS is only connected to your child by the adhesive strip, and usually does not cause any type of pain or discomfort. The health care team will monitor the skin under the adhesive strip and change it regularly.

Why does my child need this value?

Pulse oximetry can help your doctor to be sure that your child’s heart and lungs are healthy and supplying enough oxygen to their body. NIRS values help your doctor understand how your child is using oxygen in their body. It is common to continue to monitor this value while your child has a breathing tube, but the length of time for the test is at the discretion of the provider.

How should I care for my child?

Frequent hand hygiene is the most important way to prevent the spread of germs. Always wash hands well with soap and water for at least 15 seconds, or use an alcohol hand sanitizer, such as Purell®. Be careful not to pull tubes when holding your child.


This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call your clinic.

Reviewed 7/2023

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit

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