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Incentive spirometer


Taking deep breaths will fill your lungs with air and help exercise your lungs. Filling your lungs with air is done by breathing in slowly and deeply. It helps open the air sacs in your lungs and may reduce future problems. Breathing exercises help keep your lungs healthier during your hospital stay and after you leave the hospital. The incentive spirometer is a breathing device that will help you see how well you are doing with taking deep breaths.

Learning to use the incentive spirometer is easy. You need to use your incentive spirometer at least 8 times a day. Each time you use the incentive spirometer, you should try to breathe through it 10 times. We recommend that you use the incentive spirometer every hour while you are awake. Of course, if you want to use it more often that is OK. The more you do this breathing exercise the healthier your lungs will be.

Using the incentive spirometer should help you:

  • Increase or maintain your inhaled lung volume (amount of air you breathe in on a single breath);
  • Improve how well  you rid your lungs of mucus; and
  • Possibly avoid serious lung infection, especially after surgery or a procedure.

Using the incentive spirometer

Attache the tube
  • Hold your spirometer with the “smiley” faces (see 1 below) toward you.
  • Attach the open end of the clear “slinky” tube (see 2 below) to the opening at the bottom right of your spirometer and stretch it out. The mouthpiece is at the other end of the tubing.
Capacity slide
  • Your respiratory therapist will move the yellow slide on the left side of the spirometer to the correct level for you. The level is based on  your age, height and how deeply you are able to breathe now. This shows how much you need to breathe in to fill your lungs.

Your expected amount is ________mls of air. (This number will be set by your doctor.)

Blow air out of lungs
  • Before starting, blow all the air out of your lungs. Then, close your lips tightly around the mouthpiece.
Breathe in slowly
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through the mouthpiece.
  • While breathing in, watch the “smiley” face marker and keep the yellow marker floating in the box with the “smiley” face for at least 6 seconds. Try to keep the marker away from the “sad” faces.
  • Then, remove the mouthpiece and breathe out slowly. The top of the yellow marker inside the cylinder will allow you to see what the highest number is you have achieved.
  • Breathe normally for a few breaths, and then repeat the exercise. If you start to feel lightheaded or dizzy, slow down your breathing, and take a longer time for the exercises with normal breaths between the deep breaths.
  • If you find that you can breathe in deeper than the number set for you, move the yellow slide up and proudly show that you have improved.


To learn more about using the incentive spirometer or about taking care of your lungs, talk to your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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