How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer

Time to Read: About 2 minutes

This information will help you learn how to use your incentive spirometer.

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About Your Incentive Spirometer

An incentive spirometer is a device that will expand your lungs by helping you to breathe more deeply and fully. The parts of your incentive spirometer are labeled in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Incentive Spirometer

Figure 1. Incentive Spirometer

Use your incentive spirometer after your surgery and do your deep breathing and coughing exercises. This will help keep your lungs active throughout your recovery and prevent complications such as pneumonia. 

If you have an active respiratory infection (such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or COVID-19) do not use the device when other people are around.

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How To Use Your Incentive Spirometer

Here is a video demonstrating how to use your incentive spirometer:

Setting up your incentive spirometer

The first time you use your incentive spirometer, you will need to take the flexible tubing with the mouthpiece out of the bag. Stretch out the tubing and connect it to the outlet on the right side of the base (see Figure 1). The mouthpiece will be attached to the other end of the tubing.

Using your incentive spirometer

When you’re using your incentive spirometer, make sure to breathe through your mouth. If you breathe through your nose, the incentive spirometer won’t work properly. You can hold your nose if you have trouble.

If you feel dizzy at any time, stop and rest. Try again at a later time.

To use your incentive spirometer, follow the steps below.

  1. Sit upright in a chair or in bed. Hold the incentive spirometer at eye level.
    • If you had surgery on your chest or abdomen (belly), hug or hold a pillow to help splint or brace your incision (surgical cut) while you’re using the incentive spirometer. This will help decrease pain at your incision.
  2. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth and close your lips tightly around it. Slowly breathe out (exhale) completely.
  3. Breathe in (inhale) slowly through your mouth as deeply as you can. As you take the breath, you will see the piston rise inside the large column. While the piston rises, the indicator on the right should move upwards. It should stay in between the 2 arrows (see Figure 1).
  4. Try to get the piston as high as you can, while keeping the indicator between the arrows.
    • If the indicator doesn’t stay between the arrows, you’re breathing either too fast or too slow.
  5. When you get it as high as you can, hold your breath for 10 seconds, or as long as possible. While you’re holding your breath, the piston will slowly fall to the base of the spirometer.
  6. Once the piston reaches the bottom of the spirometer, breathe out slowly through your mouth. Rest for a few seconds.
  7. Repeat 10 times. Try to get the piston to the same level with each breath.
  8. After each set of 10 breaths, try to cough, holding a pillow over your incision, as needed. Coughing will help loosen or clear any mucus in your lungs.
  9. Put the marker at the level the piston reached on your incentive spirometer. This will be your goal next time.

Repeat these steps every hour that you’re awake.

Cover the mouthpiece of the incentive spirometer when you aren’t using it.

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