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Incentive Spirometer

What Is an Incentive Spirometer?

An incentive spirometer is a hand-held device that helps people to take slow, deep breaths. It's like exercise equipment for the lungs to keep them strong and working well.

Why Do People Need an Incentive Spirometer?

Breathing deeply helps get enough air into the lungs so they inflate as much as possible. Breathing slowly helps inflate all areas of the lungs, not just part of them.

When kids don't breathe deeply enough, fluid and germs can build up in the lungs. Kids might get infections like pneumonia.

Using an incentive spirometer helps kids who are healing from surgery. Because kids are resting more than usual, they don't breathe in as deeply as they normally do. After chest surgery or spine surgery, some kids find it hurts to breathe in. They may take shallow breaths that don't fill their lungs with enough air.

Kids with conditions that can affect the lungs, like sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis, might use an incentive spirometer to treat or prevent problems.

How Does an Incentive Spirometer Work?

An incentive spirometer is made of hollow, clear plastic. It has a tube with a mouthpiece attached.

Incentive Spirometry

There are two indicators that show:

1. How deeply your child breathes in. A grid with numbers on the main chamber measures how much air your child is breathing in. A piston moves up the grid as your child breathes in. (The piston is the large blue disc in the main chamber, pictured above.) The deeper your child breathes, the higher it goes.

The care team moves a slider on the grid to set a goal for how deeply your child should breathe. At first, it can be hard for kids to reach the goal. That's normal. Incentive spirometry is like any workout: The more kids do it, the easier it is to reach their goal.

2. How slowly your child breathes in. On the side of the main chamber, there are lines showing a range. As your child inhales, a disc (indicator) goes up and down. Your child is breathing at the right speed when the indicator stays in the target range.

How Often Do People Do Incentive Spirometry?

How often your child needs to use the spirometer depends on the reason for doing it.

Incentive Spirometry After Surgery

Before the surgery, your child will probably practice using the spirometer at home. This helps your child get used to the spirometer and learn what it feels like to do it right. After surgery, kids need to use the spirometer about 10 times each hour when awake.

Incentive Spirometry for a Lung Illness

Kids with cystic fibrosis might need to use the spirometer when they do other types of breathing treatments. Kids with sickle cell disease might use it at home or if they're in the hospital with lung problems or pain.

Your care team will let you know the schedule that's best for your child.

How Can I Help My Child?

Using the spirometer can be a challenge for kids and teens. You can:

  • Sit with your child while he or she practices. Offer encouragement and praise when your child is able to meet both goal and target ranges.
  • Set a timer to remind your child to do it. This can sometimes be better than a parent asking over and over.
  • Make using the spirometer a game. For example, when watching TV, try to do 10 breaths during each commercial break. Give younger kids stickers for reaching their goal.
Date reviewed: September 2017

Note: All information on KidsHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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