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Lung Surgery Patient Guide

After Lung Surgery: Breathing and Coughing Exercises

Incentive spirometer for breathing exercises.

While you recover from surgery, it might be uncomfortable or painful to breathe in as deeply as you normally would. But in order for your lungs to function properly, you need to use your incentive spirometer. You will be given one to take home to practice. You do not need to bring it back to the hospital.

The incentive spirometer is a small, handheld device that is used after surgery to help you expand your lungs and cough up any secretions from your lungs. It also helps maintain your normal breathing pattern and measures your inspiratory volume, or how well your lungs are being filled with air when you breathe in. In addition, the incentive spirometer will help you exercise your lungs, just as if you were going through your normal daily routine.

How to Use Your Incentive Spirometer

  1. While sitting up in bed, hold the incentive spirometer in an upright position.
  2. Exhale as you would normally, then put the spirometer's mouthpiece in your mouth and hold your lips tight around the mouthpiece.
  3. Inhale slowly and deeply, and try to raise the markers toward the top of the tube, then hold your breath as long as possible (at least for 5 seconds), then slowly let air out.
  4. Rest for a few seconds and repeat Steps 1-3 at least 10 times every hour when you are awake.

After using your incentive spirometer, practice coughing to be sure your lungs are clear. If you have an incision, support your incision when coughing by placing a pillow firmly against it.

PEP Therapy

Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) therapy uses a breathing device that helps expand your lungs and remove pulmonary secretions, or mucus. Your therapist will assist you with this treatment. Breathing through the PEP valve, you will inhale normally, then exhale through the PEP valve, which has some resistance. This resistance will work out your lungs. After two series of ten breaths, you follow with 2-3 huff coughs.

Huff Coughing

Coughing is a natural way to force mucus out of your lungs. During huff coughing, you gently say the word "huff", which keeps your throat open. Your respiratory therapist will help you with this breathing exercise.

  1. To begin, inhale slowly and deeply, then hold your breath for three seconds.
  2. Then do a forced exhalation, whispering the word "huff" as you quickly let air out.
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