5 Airway Clearance Techniques for Bronchiectasis and COPD

Though we may consider coughing a nuisance, it’s actually the body’s natural reflex to help protect us against airborne irritants that enter the lungs.1 But what happens when your cough is unable to clear mucus from the airways? When your lungs lose their ability to mobilize mucus, it leaves your body open to possible infection and damage to your airways. 

If you’re living with a chronic lung condition like bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or cystic fibrosis, airway clearance is essential to removing excess mucus, so you can breathe easier and enjoy the activities you love.    

 

Airway Clearance Techniques for Bronchiectasis and COPD

Though your clinician may recommend many different airway clearance techniques, this list consists of five popular methods for treating a variety of chronic lung conditions. 

1. High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO) Therapy

If you’re living with bronchiectasis or an overlap of bronchiectasis and COPD symptoms, HFCWO therapy offers an effective, easy-to-manage (and monitor) treatment option. Also known as a respiratory vest or vest therapy, this airway clearance therapy works by delivering repeated pulses of air that gently squeeze and release the upper body. The frequent oscillations helps loosen mucus, propelling it toward your larger airways, where it’s easier to cough out. Not all respiratory vests are the same, so you’ll want to talk to your doctor about the SmartVest Airway Clearance System. As the only HFCWO therapy vest on the market with proven data on its effectiveness of reducing respiratory infections with long-term use, SmartVest allows you to perform therapy at home or on-the-go, making it a smarter option for people living with bronchiectasis or comorbid bronchiectasis and COPD.

2. Coughing and Huffing

This airway clearance technique is most effective when performed before and after your HFCWO therapy to effectively clear mucus from the airways. The technique is similar to breathing on a pair of eyeglasses to clean them. The routine takes practice and should be repeated 2-3 times:2

  • Step 1: Begin by inhaling deeply through your nose.
  • Step 2: While pulling in your abdomen area, force the air out through your mouth in three equal breaths, while making a “huff” sound in the back of your throat. For a visual, see this resource guide.

3. Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure (OPEP)

OPEP is a hand-held device that creates resistance and vibration to help break down and clear mucus from the airways and is most effective when paired with huff cough.3 

4. Manual Chest Physiotherapy (CPT)

Manual CPT is an airway clearance technique that requires the assistance of a caregiver or respiratory therapist. To perform, the patient gets in different positions while a trained individual manually claps on the chest wall to help clear the lungs of mucus build up.

5. Autogenic Drainage

This technique focuses on moving mucus from your smaller airways to your larger ones: “It is done by varying breathing speeds and inhaling to different levels and adjusting the exhaled breath.”4 Autogenic drainage may require more practice than other airway clearance techniques.

 

Smart Tips for Airway Clearance

For more tips on airway clearance techniques for bronchiectasis, COPD, or cystic fibrosis, stay connected to our blog page for related articles, news on research, and independent studies. If you’d like to learn more about the effectiveness of HFCWO therapy via SmartVest, request an informational packet today to have delivered to your door, so you can share with your loved ones and healthcare team! 


  1.  American Lung Association. “Learn About Cough.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/cough/learn-about-cough.html
  2.  American Thoracic Society. “Treating Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/bronchiectasis-pt2.pdf
  3.  Lung Disease News. “7 Airway Clearance Techniques.” Retrieved from https://lungdiseasenews.com/2017/11/20/7-airway-clearance-techniques/
  4.  Cystic Fibrosis News Today. “ 7 Airway Clearance Techniques.” Retrieved from https://cysticfibrosisnewstoday.com/2017/08/21/seven-airway-clearance-techniques/
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