Learning About Using an Incentive Spirometer

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Woman using incentive spirometer

What is an incentive spirometer?

An incentive spirometer is a handheld device that exercises your lungs and measures how much air you can breathe in. It tells you and your doctor how well your lungs are working.

The spirometer can help you practice taking deep breaths. Deep breaths can help open your airways and prevent fluid or mucus from building up in your lungs, and make it easier for you to breathe.

Using the device can help prevent serious lung infections like pneumonia, improve your breathing after you've had pneumonia or surgery, and keep your airways open and lungs active if you can't get out of bed.

How do you use an incentive spirometer?

When you use an incentive spirometer, you breathe in air through a tube that is connected to a large air column containing a piston or ball. As you breathe in, the piston or ball inside the column moves up. The height of the piston or ball shows how much air you breathed in.

You may feel lightheaded when you breathe in deeply for this exercise. If you feel dizzy or feel like you're going to pass out, stop the exercise and rest.

Each time you do this exercise, keep track of your progress by writing down how high the piston or ball moves up the column.

  1. Move the slider on the outside of the large column to the level that you want to reach or that your doctor recommended.
  2. Sit or stand up straight, and hold the spirometer in front of you.

    Be sure to keep it level.

  3. To start, breathe out normally. Then close your lips tightly around the mouthpiece.

    Make sure that you don't block the mouthpiece with your tongue.

  4. Take a slow, deep breath.

    Breathe in as deeply as you can. As you breathe in, the piston or ball inside the large column will move up.

    1. Try to move the piston or ball as high up as you can or to the level your doctor recommended.
    2. When you can't breathe in anymore, hold your breath for 2 to 5 seconds.
  5. Relax, take the mouthpiece out of your mouth, and breathe out normally.
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 as many times as your doctor tells you to.
  7. After you've taken the recommended number of breaths, try to cough a few times.

    This will help loosen any mucus that has built up in your lungs. It will make it easier for you to breathe. If you just had surgery on your belly or chest, hold a pillow over your cut (incision) when you cough.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.