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Cystic Fibrosis: Ways to Clear the Airways

Cystic Fibrosis: Ways to Clear the Airways

Topic Overview

People with cystic fibrosis can get lung infections and other respiratory problems because of the buildup of thick, sticky mucus that traps bacteria.

Talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist about airway-clearance methods and medicines that you can use to help get rid of mucus. Your doctor or respiratory therapist may suggest some things that you or your child can do at home to help clear mucus from the lungs. These include:

  • Postural drainage and chest percussion, to help with coughing up mucus from the lungs. For specific instructions, see:
    Click here to view an Actionset. Cystic Fibrosis: Helping Your Child Cough Up Mucus.
  • Deep breathing exercises, to help with breathing out completely and to strengthen the muscles used for breathing.
  • Directed cough, to help clear mucus by breathing and coughing in specific ways.
  • Exercise. Aerobic exercise can improve how well the lungs work. Ask your doctor about what kinds of exercise you or your child should do.

Other methods use mechanical equipment to help clear mucus from the lungs. For example:

  • High-frequency chest compression vest. This inflatable vest receives high-frequency pulses of air from a generator. The vibration helps to loosen and clear the mucus from the lungs. This method can be done without the help of another person.
  • Positive expiratory pressure (PEP). A PEP device creates a constant pressure when you or your child breathes through a mask or mouthpiece. This pressure keeps the airways open, so you or your child can cough up the mucus.
  • Flutter. This device looks like a pipe and has a steel ball inside. When you or your child exhales through the flutter, the ball moves and causes the airways to vibrate. This movement is thought to help loosen and clear mucus from the lungs.
  • Acapella device. This is a small, handheld device that uses magnetic force to help loosen mucus.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Catherine O'Malley, RRT - Respiratory Therapy
Last Revised February 8, 2013

Last Revised: February 8, 2013

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