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How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer

An incentive spirometer will help you expand your lungs by encouraging you to breathe more deeply and fully. Using your incentive spirometer along with deep breathing and coughing exercises will help prevent complications such as pneumonia.

A video demonstrating how to use your incentive spirometer can be found on MSKCC’s website at:

The first time you use it, you will need to take the flexible tubing with the mouthpiece out of the bag. Expand the tubing and connect it to the outleton the right side of the base (see figure). The mouthpiece will be attached to the other end of the tubing. 
  1. Sit upright in a chair or in bed. Hold the incentive spirometer upright at eye level.
  2. Breathe out (exhale) once slowly. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth and close your lips tightly around it. 
  3. Take a slow, deep breath in through your mouth. As you take a deep breath, you will see the piston rise on the left side of the device. While the piston rises, the indicator on the right should move upwards. It should stay in between the 2 arrows (see figure). If the indicator does not stay between the arrows, you are breathing either too fast or too slowly.
  4. Try to get the piston as high as you can, while keeping the indicator between the arrows.
  5. When you get it as high as you can, try to keep it at that level for as long as possible.
  6. Exhale normally, allowing the piston to fall all the way back to the bottom. Rest for a few seconds.
  7. Take 10 to 12 breaths every hour with your incentive spirometer while you are awake. Try to get the piston to the same level with each breath. 
  8. After each set of breaths, cough 3 times. This will help loosen or clear any secretions in your lungs.

Special Points

  • If you feel dizzy at any time, stop and rest. Try again at a later time. 
  • Hug or hold a pillow to help splint your incision if you had surgery on your chest or abdomen. This will help decrease pain at your incision.
  • Breathe through your mouth. If you breathe through your nose the incentive spirometer will not work properly. You can plug your nose if you have trouble.
  • Keep the incentive spirometer clean by covering the mouthpiece when it is not in use.