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How to Use a Manual Incentive Spirometer


When you use an incentive spirometer, you'll 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 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. This will help you and your doctor know how well your lungs are working.

Step 1: Move the slider

Photo of moving the slider

Move the slider on the outside of the large column to the level that you want to reach or that your doctor recommended.

Step 2: Hold the spirometer in front of you

Photo of holding spirometer out in front of you

Sit or stand up straight, and hold the spirometer in front of you. Be sure to keep it level.

Step 3: Breathe out

Photo of breathing out normallly

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.

Step 4: Breathe in

Photo of taking a slow, deep breath.

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. Try to move the piston or ball as high up as you can or to the level your doctor recommended. When you can't breathe in anymore, hold your breath for 2 to 5 seconds.

Step 5: Breathe out

Photo of removing the mouthpiece and breathing out normally

Relax, remove the mouthpiece, and then breathe out normally.

Repeat steps 1 through 5 as many times as your doctor tells you to. Then go to step 6.

Step 6: Cough

Photo of a person coughing to loosen mucus

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 incision when you cough. This will support your belly or chest and reduce your pain.

Repeat steps 1 through 6 as many times a day as your doctor tells you to.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerMark A. Rasmus, MD - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Sleep Medicine
Last RevisedJuly 14, 2010

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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