An incentive spirometer is a subtype of the standard spirometer of which there are several types. The incentive spirometer, however, is used to measure inspiratory flow (incentive spirometry), rather than expiratory flow, volume, or capacity.

The incentive spirometer is basically a flow meter which is designed to give immediate feedback on the rate of flow a patient can sustain into the lungs, or to encourage frequent deep breaths in post-surgical patients. The flow rate is generally measured in ml/sec, and when normalized to age and sex, can give a quick and reasonably accurate measure of lung function in several situations.

Incentive spirometers have come into standard use after surgery, and are less commonly used by asthmatics to adjust their therapy at home. They generally have a small sliding indicator tab which can be moved by the patient to indicate the maximum flow rate that they have achieved. This encourages an increased effort the next time the spirometer is used. Here are general instructions on the use of an incentive spirometer in the post-surgical setting:

  1. Assume a sitting position
  2. Hold the incentive spirometer upright
  3. Seal your lips tightly around the mouthpiece
  4. Breathe in slowly and deeply.
  5. Hold your breath as long as possible (or at least 5 seconds)
  6. Rest, then repeat steps 1 through 5 as directed by your health care provider
  7. Use the indicator as a goal to meet or exceed during each use of the spirometer
The incentive spirometers are reasonably inexpensive, and are usually sent home with patients after surgery.