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5 Airway Clearance Techniques to Help Clear Mucus From the Lungs

Clear Mucus; Breathe Better

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Updated May 29, 2014

One of the hallmark symptoms of COPD is increased mucus production which, over time, can build-up and block the airways. The pooling of mucus in the airways then becomes a breeding ground for bacteria which, in turn, can lead to lung infections like pneumonia.

Learning how to clear mucus from the lungs takes time and may not produce immediate results. But, airway clearance is an important part of COPD treatment, especially because it can help you breathe better and reduce your risk of lung infection.

Here are some important airway clearance techniques that are simple yet effective:

1. Controlled Coughing - The Most Effecitve Means of Airway Clearance

coughing
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com, user David Freund

COPD patients often have great difficulty mustering up a strong, productive cough due, in part, to weakness and dyspnea. Learning how to cough effectively, however, is one of the best airway clearance techniques that you can teach yourself.

2. Chest Physiotherapy

Hand Position for Chest Percussion
Copyright Deborah Leader

Chest physiotherapy (CPT) can be performed either manually, using chest percussion and vibration, or with an airway clearance device. Manual chest physiotherapy involves clapping on the chest and/or back to help loosen thick secretions. Airway clearance devices for home use are generally hand-held and can be an affordable alternative to manual CPT.

3. Postural Drainage

Upper Lobe Posterior Segments
Copyright Deborah Leader

Often coupled with chest physiotherapy, postural drainage is an airway clearance technique that uses gravity to assist in the removal of secretions from the airways. There are at least 12 different positions in which postural drainage is performed, depending upon which area of the lungs you are trying to concentrate on.

4. Expectorants

Robitussin
Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Scott Olson

Expectorants are a type of cough medicine that help loosen the mucus in your lungs making your cough more productive. Expectorants are available both over the counter and by prescription.

5. Mucolytics

Mucolytics
Photo courtesy of About.com

Mucolytics help thin out thick mucus in the airways making it easier to cough up. According to the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), however, mucolytic drugs are not part of the current standard of care for COPD patients. But, some doctors still prescribe them and many COPD patients feel that they work well. Mucolytics are also available over the counter or by prescription from your doctor.

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