How To Use an Incentive Spirometer after Surgery

If you've recently had surgery or if you struggle with a lung condition like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), you may need to use an incentive spirometer. They may look complicated or intimidating, but they're necessary to improve your health. Here's what you need to know about using an incentive spirometer after surgery.

Step 1

Understand the job of an incentive spirometer. An incentive spirometer measures how well your lungs fill up each time you take a breath. At the same time it also exercises your lungs to help keep your alveoli healthy and inflated. (These are the tiny little air sacs on your lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide take place.) If your lungs aren't perfectly healthy, an incentive spirometer is necessary to monitor your breathing and keep you as healthy as possible.

Step 2

Prepare to use the spirometer. Your doctor probably gave you a crash course in how to use an incentive spirometer after surgery, and these tips should serve as a quick reminder. Start by sitting or lying upright in a comfortable position, either on the couch, in your bed, or on your favorite chair. Then grasp the incentive spirometer with both of your hands, taking extra care to keep it upright so that none of the liquid spills from it. Look on the left side of it for an indicator, and slide it to your desired level. (Most people start at 1250 mL and slowly increase this amount with each treatment, but ask your doctor to be sure.)

Step 3

Use the incentive spirometer properly. Once you have prepared the incentive spirometer and you are seated in the right position, you can now begin using this apparatus. Put the mouthpiece directly into your mouth and create a tight seal around it with your lips. Now, take a deep, slow breath and watch the piston on the incentive spirometer rise upward in the column. Once you have taken a slow, deep breath in, you need to hold your breath for at least 3 seconds.  After this, the piston should drop down the column to the very bottom again. This is considered one set of breathing.

Step 4

Clear your lungs. After each set of breathing using the incentive spirometer, you must clear your airways. They'll likely be congested with mucous. A few coughs should do the trick. Don't return to the incentive spirometer until you have coughed several times.

Step 5

Repeat the process throughout the day. Now that you have cleared your airways, you can go back to the incentive spirometer again. Take in a deep, slow breath, hold it for 3 seconds and then exhale. Observe the movement of the piston each time. Then clear your airways by coughing.

You'll need to follow your doctor's instructions as to the frequency that you use the incentive spirometer. But in general, patients are required to use the apparatus 10 times each hour in the days that follow surgery. These hours do not include sleeping hours. But anytime you are awake after surgery, you should be using the incentive spirometer the suggested number of times.


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