Your health care provider may recommend that you use an incentive spirometer after surgery or when you have a lung illness, such as pneumonia. The spirometer is a device used to help you keep your lungs healthy. Using the incentive spirometer teaches you how to take slow deep breaths.
How to Use an Incentive Spirometer
Many people feel weak and sore after surgery and taking big breaths can be uncomfortable. A device called an incentive spirometer can help you take deep breaths correctly.
By using the incentive spirometer every 1 to 2 hours, or as instructed by your provider, you can take an active role in your recovery and keep your lungs healthy.
To use the spirometer:
- Sit up and hold the device.
- Place the mouthpiece spirometer in your mouth. Make sure you make a good seal over the mouthpiece with your lips.
- Breathe out (exhale) normally.
- Breathe in (inhale) slowly.
A piece in the incentive spirometer will rise as you breathe in.
- Try to get this piece to rise as high as you can.
- Usually, there is a marker placed by your doctor that tells you how big of a breath you should take.
A smaller piece in the spirometer looks like a ball or disk.
- Your goal should be to make sure this ball stays in the middle of the chamber while you breathe in.
- If you breathe in too fast, the ball will shoot to the top.
- If you breathe in too slowly, the ball will stay at the bottom.
Hold your breath for 3 to 5 seconds. Then slowly exhale.
Take 10 to 15 breaths with your spirometer every 1 to 2 hours, or as often as instructed by your provider.
These tips may be helpful:
- If you have a surgical cut (incision) in your chest or abdomen, you may need to hold a pillow tightly to your belly while breathing in. This will help ease discomfort.
- If you do not make the number marked for you, do not get discouraged. You will improve with practice and as your body heals.
- If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, remove the mouthpiece from your mouth and take some normal breaths. Then continue using the incentive spirometer.
Lung complications - incentive spirometer; Pneumonia - incentive spirometer
do Nascimento Junior P, Modolo NS, Andrade S, Guimaraes MM, Braz LG, El Dib R. Incentive spirometry for prevention of postoperative pulmonary complications in upper abdominal surgery. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;(2):CD006058. PMID: 24510642 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24510642/.
Yepuri N, Pruekprasert N, Cooney RN. Surgical complications. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 12.
Review Date 10/23/2021
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.