Incentive Spirometer

An incentive spirometer is a medical device that helps your lungs. Your healthcare provider will help you establish goals. The more you use your incentive spirometer, the stronger your lungs get. Your healthcare provider will also teach you how to use the device properly.

An incentive spirometer is a simple plastic device. The yellow indicator on the side helps track your progress.
An incentive spirometer is a small plastic device that helps clear and strengthen your lungs.

What is an incentive spirometer?

An incentive spirometer (spy-rom-uh-ter) is a simple, plastic medical device that exercises your lungs. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you use an incentive spirometer after an illness, surgery or an injury to your chest or abdomen.

An incentive spirometer helps prevent lung infections by expanding your lungs, strengthening your lungs, keeping your lungs inflated and clearing mucus and other secretions from your chest and lungs. You may have low oxygen levels after surgery or a serious illness, and an incentive spirometer helps you achieve a normal oxygen level.

How big is an incentive spirometer?

An incentive spirometer is small. It’s about the size of a small bottle, and you can hold it in one hand.


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What does an incentive spirometer do for your lungs?

With regular use, an incentive spirometer helps your lungs expand so you can take deep, full breaths instead of short, shallow breaths.

What is the benefit of an incentive spirometer?

An incentive spirometer is like an exercise machine for your lungs. It helps you maintain your lung strength, or it helps your lungs get stronger after an injury or illness.

After surgery, an incentive spirometer can:

  • Improve lung ventilation. Ventilation is how much air enters your lungs when you breathe in and how much air leaves your lungs when you breathe out.
  • Recover from anesthesia quickly. An incentive spirometer helps clear anesthesia from your lungs.
  • Loosen mucus from your lungs. Deep exhalations help prevent mucus and fluids from building up in your lungs.
  • Help prevent lung complications. Slow, deep breaths fully inflate your lungs, which help clear any fluids that may cause lung conditions, such as pneumonia.

What are the two types of incentive spirometers?

There are two types of incentive spirometer:

  • Flow-oriented incentive spirometer (FIS). An FIS device makes you work harder to breathe. It helps increase the muscles in your upper chest.
  • Volume-oriented incentive spirometer (VIS). A VIS device doesn’t make you work as hard as an FIS device to breathe. It helps improve activity and movement in your diaphragm.

Who should use an incentive spirometer?

Your healthcare provider may give you an incentive spirometer in the following situations:

  • Ribcage injuries. Rib fractures are common injuries. Your ribs may be sore to the touch, and it may hurt to breathe or cough. Everyday activities such as walking, running or going upstairs may also be painful or uncomfortable.
  • Bed rest. Bed rest means you should rest in bed or on a comfortable couch at home and restrict your movements and activities. Your healthcare provider may recommend bed rest after surgery or an injury.
  • Asthma. Asthma causes your airways to become inflamed, tighten and produce mucus.
  • Pneumonia. Pneumonia causes air sacs in your lungs to fill with mucus and other fluids. An incentive spirometer helps loosen mucus and fluids from your lungs.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a group of diseases that causes permanent lung damage. You can’t reverse COPD damage to your lungs, but an incentive spirometer can help alleviate your symptoms.
  • Cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis causes mucus to build up in your organs, including your lungs.
  • Sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder. It can cause cells to clump together and can clog blood vessels in your lungs, which may cause chest pain, a cough and trouble breathing.
  • Atelectasis. Atelectasis prevents your lungs from properly inflating.

How do I use an incentive spirometer?

To properly use an incentive spirometer, you should:

  1. Sit on the edge of your bed if possible. If you can’t, sit up as far as you can in bed.
  2. Hold the incentive spirometer in an upright position.
  3. Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and tightly seal your lips around it.
  4. Breathe in as slowly and deeply as possible. You’ll notice a yellow piston rising toward the top of the column. The yellow piston should reach the blue outlined area.
  5. Hold your breath for as long as possible, or at least five seconds. Exhale slowly and allow the piston to fall to the bottom of the column.
  6. Rest for a few seconds, and then repeat the first five steps at least 10 times every hour you’re awake.
  7. Place the yellow indicator on the side of your incentive spirometer to show your best breath. Use the indicator as a goal to work toward during each slow, deep breath.
  8. After each set of 10 deep breaths, cough deeply to clear your lungs. If you have an incision from surgery, firmly press a pillow or rolled-up towel against your incision when coughing to provide support.
  9. Once you can get out of bed safely, take frequent short walks and practice coughing. You can usually stop using the incentive spirometer once you can walk around, unless otherwise instructed by your healthcare provider.

If you feel dizzy or lightheaded at any point while using an incentive spirometer, immediately stop using the device and alert your healthcare provider.

How often should I use an incentive spirometer?

When you’re awake, you should use your incentive spirometer at least 10 times every hour.

Are there any risks to using an incentive spirometer?

Yes, there are some risks associated with using an incentive spirometer.

If you don’t properly clean and disinfect your incentive spirometer, it’s possible for you to spread bacteria. Clean your incentive spirometer’s tubing, breathing valve and mouthpiece before someone else uses it.

An incentive spirometer also requires you to exhale deeply, which may spread airborne microbes such as influenza and COVID-19. It’s a good idea to avoid using an incentive spirometer around other people, especially if you’re not feeling well.

If you have cystic fibrosis, you’re also at a higher risk of upper respiratory tract infections when you use an incentive spirometer or other lung function testing equipment.

How do I clean my incentive spirometer?

If you have an incentive spirometer for home use, it’s a good idea to clean it daily.

Detach the mouthpiece from the base of the device and clean it with clean running water and antibacterial soap for about 20 seconds. Then wash the rest of the spirometer with water and soap.

You can also put on protective gloves and soak the separate pieces in a 5% bleach and water solution for about five to 10 minutes. Periodically swish the pieces in the solution to help clean the device. Thoroughly rinse the pieces in clean running water after five to 10 minutes.

Make sure the incentive spirometer is dry before your next use.

Is an incentive spirometer good for my heart?

An incentive spirometer isn’t specifically good for your heart. However, it’s helpful as you recover from many types of surgery, including open heart surgery.

During many open heart surgery procedures, your healthcare provider will hook you up to a heart-lung bypass machine. A heart-lung bypass machine connects to your heart. It temporarily takes over for your heart and lungs, so blood still circulates around your body, but it moves away from your heart. It also deflates your lungs.

When there is no air in your lungs, they may create mucus. An incentive spirometer helps remove the mucus and other fluids from your lungs as you recover from the procedure.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An incentive spirometer is a medical device that helps your lungs recover after surgery or a lung illness. You may find it challenging to use the device at first, but keep it up! The more you use an incentive spirometer, the stronger your lungs will get. Don’t forget to use the indicator on the side of the device to help you track your progress and achieve your goals.

Your healthcare provider can answer any questions you have about how to use the device.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/31/2022.

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