Benefits of Airway Clearance Devices & Techniques

SmartVest user wearing airway clearance device at home while sitting in chair.

New to airway clearance? Living with a chronic lung condition, like bronchiectasis (brong-kee-EK-tuh-sis), makes breathing feel constricted. Though your clinician may prescribe different types of treatment to help you manage your symptoms—such as antibiotics or mucus-thinning medications [1]airway clearance works to help treat the underlying cause of your chronic symptoms (i.e., mucus buildup). 

When mucus builds up in the lungs, breathing becomes more difficult. Excess mucus can also leave your lungs more prone to infection [2] or cause you to experience a worsening of bronchiectasis-related symptoms (i.e., flare up). 

What Is Airway Clearance?

When performed regularly, airway clearance helps loosen mucus in the lungs, so it can be broken up and more easily coughed out—thereby reducing the risk of respiratory infection [3]. 

Why Is Airway Clearance Important for Managing Bronchiectasis?

Each patient will experience bronchiectasis symptoms differently. Therefore, it’s important to work with your doctor to find an airway clearance solution. One that helps relieve symptoms and reduce complications associated with this condition. 

Airway Clearance Devices vs. Techniques

Airway clearance can be performed using a hand-held device, a respiratory vest, or manually with the help of a caregiver.

To understand the different types of airway clearance devices and techniques that are available, we’ve compiled some information below. The next step is talking to your clinician about adding airway clearance to your individual treatment plan.  

airway clearance techniques, bronchiectasis resources

Breathing techniques, such as pursed-lip breathing and abdominal breathing, are performed using controlled exercises that patients can try at home to help loosen and mobilize mucus. 

According to the American Thoracic Society, a common breathing technique is known as the “huff cough.” This involves a repeated cycle of inhaling air through your nose and then exhaling it back out through your mouth—simultaneously pulling your abdomen inward and making a “huff” sound [4].

For more information on breathing techniques, check out this blog post!

airway clearance techniques, bronchiectasis resources

Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure (OPEP), a device you hold in your hand, creates resistance and vibrations that help loosen and clear mucus from the airways. After a series of breaths through an OPEP device, patients will “huff cough” to clear mucus from their lungs [5].

airway clearance techniques, bronchiectasis resources

A traditional approach to airway clearance is Manual Chest Physiotherapy, also known as Manual CPT, which involves the assistance of a therapist or caregiver who manually claps on your chest wall in various positions [6]. The repeated clapping helps to loosen mucus and move it toward the larger airways. This technique is typically performed multiple times a day, using various positions to help drain mucus [7].

For more information on Manual CPT, check out this blog post!

While this technique may be beneficial, needing a caregiver to perform manual CPT every day is not only time-consuming, but can be exhausting. 

airway clearance techniques, bronchiectasis resources

HFCWO therapy is an airway clearance device that works similarly to manual CPT, but rather than relying on someone else to help, you can perform your therapy independently. 

The SmartVest Airway Clearance System offers HFCWO therapy in a convenient and comfortable garment worn around the chest wall that is connected to a generator. Once activated, the machine performs a series of vibrating pulses that are consistent in frequency, delivery, and, on average, completed just twice a day in 20-minute sessions.

Woman using SmartVest Airway Clearance System.

The device delivers rapidly repeating pulses of air that alternately squeeze and release the upper body, propeling mucus from the lungs and moving it toward major airways where you can easily cough it out.

SmartVest offers 360° lung coverage and is clinically proven to clear the lungs of excess mucus, which can reduce the risk of respiratory infections and hospitalizations [8]. In addition, SmartVest releases, on average, 91% of its air between compressions [9], meaning patients have more breathing roomTM and comfort (less restriction) during therapy.

SmartVest is a convenient and comfortable approach to bronchiectasis management. This therapy helps you prevent the cycle of mucus buildup and infection.

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Airway Clearance Devices for Home Use

Learn more about how SmartVest delivers a comfortable treatment option and request a patient packet today to take to your next doctor appointment. If you’re ready to chat now to see if SmartVest is right for you, schedule a time with our Patient Care Advocates or call 1.855.528.5690

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[1] American Lung Association. “Treating and Managing bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from

[2] National Jewish Foundation. “Techniques to Bring Up Mucus.” Retrieved from

[3] Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Airway Clearance.” Retrieved from

[4] Treating bronchiectasis (2017). American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 196, 19-20. Retrieved from

[5] Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Oscillating PEP.” Retrieved from

[6] Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Chest Physical Therapy.” Retrieved from

[7] Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “Chest Physical Therapy.” Retrieved from

[8] Sievert CE, et al. 2016. Using High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation in a Bronchiectasis Patient Population: An Outcomes-Based Case Review. Respiratory Therapy, 11(4), 34–38.

[9] Pokorney J. Comparison of Oscillatory Trough Pressure Generated by High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO) Systems: A White Paper