Chronic lung diseases can make life a little complicated. Fortunately, living in a technologically advanced world provides some reprieve for those with lung conditions like asthma, COPD, or cystic fibrosis. An incentive spirometer acts as a helpful tool for many people, so it’s important to understand how it might help you. What exactly are incentive spirometers, and how do you use them?
What is an Incentive Spirometer?
Before we discuss the incentive spirometer, it is important that you know what a regular spirometer does. Spirometry is a method of lung testing that tells an individual their overall lung capacity. Doctors often use spirometry to diagnose asthma, as well as recommend its use at home for monitoring lung performance. To use a regular spirometer, an individual simply closes their lips over the device’s mouthpiece and then exhales quickly and forcefully. An arrow indicates a score, which in turn reflects the individual’s lung capacity.
An incentive spirometer works much the same way, except that doctors can set a “goal score” for the individual to reach. Then, instead of exhaling quickly and forcefully, the individual focuses on breathing steadily.
When you place your lips over the incentive spirometer and inhale, a piston located in the device begins to rise, moving upwards next to a line of numbers. Meanwhile, a second piston indicates how quickly you are breathing. If the second piston goes to the top, it means you are breathing too quickly. If it goes to the bottom, you are breathing too slowly. You should attempt to keep the speed piston in the middle of the spirometer.
Once the main piston reaches your doctor’s goal for you, relax and hold it. The idea is to bring the spirometer’s arrow to the “goal” set by the doctor, hold it for 5 seconds, and then slowly release. Over time, the repetition of this exercise strengthens the lungs.
An Incentive Spirometer is NOT a Portable Spirometry Test
An incentive spirometer will not give doctors the insights they need to prescribe treatment. Rather, it is a tool for improving lung function. Portable spirometers, such as Aluna, are then used to measure the effectiveness of the incentive program of treatment. The two devices are not the same.
Who Needs an Incentive Spirometer?
Incentive spirometers were specifically designed for individuals who are attempting to improve their lung capacity. Long-term users would include those who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases, but incentive spirometers work for short-term users as well.
For instance, someone who has been in the hospital with a terrible respiratory infection might need help “retraining” their lungs. The same is true for patients who have been hooked up to oxygen tanks, or even for individuals on bed rest whose lungs have grown weak from lack of use.
Tips for Using An Incentive Spirometer
Whether you suffer from asthma or you are recovering from a respiratory infection, the principles of using an incentive spirometer remain the same. Make sure you consider the following tips.
1. Pair regular testing with breathing exercises.
Although incentive spirometry provides its own method of exercise, it can be helpful to exercise your lungs in other ways as well. Try to implement these breathing exercises into your daily routine.
2. Stay as calm and relaxed as possible.
Stress and anxiety tend to cause faster breathing, so focus on relaxing your body when you use your spirometer. Sit upright in a chair or bed, relax your shoulders and back, and breathe deeply and calmly. Some breathing exercises help you fully relax, including yoga poses.
3. Don’t overdo it.
The purpose of an incentive spirometer is to help you, so if you notice that it’s getting more difficult to breathe, stop. You might be stressing yourself out.
4. Communicate with your doctor.
Above all, talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you might have. Communication is key, especially when it comes to chronic lung diseases. Your health is the utmost priority!