5 Bronchiectasis Airway Clearance Techniques

Graphic for airway clearance techniques for bronchiectasis.

Coughing may seem like a nuisance, but it’s the body’s way of protecting us from airborne irritants that enter the lungs.¹ When your lungs lose their ability to mobilize and clear mucus, it leaves the body open to possible infection and damage to your airways.

If you’re living with a chronic lung condition like bronchiectasis, airway clearance is essential to remove excess mucus so you can breathe easier and return to the activities you love.

Airway Clearance Therapy for Bronchiectasis

Though your clinician may recommend a different airway clearance technique for treating bronchiectasis, this list consists of 5 popular methods and how they work.

SmartVest user sitting on bed while using airway clearance device.

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 treatment option. Also known as a respiratory vest or vest therapy, this airway clearance therapy delivers repeated air pulses that gently squeeze and release the upper body.

The frequent oscillations help 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.

With proven data on its effectiveness in reducing respiratory infections that require hospitalization as part of an algorithm of care, SmartVest helps patients to breathe easier and live better.²

2. Coughing and Huffing

This airway clearance technique is typically 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 and should be repeated 2-3 times.³

To perform the huffing technique:

  • Begin by inhaling deeply through your nose.
  • 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.4

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 involves controlled breathing exercises that can help move mucus from the lower to the upper airways, where it can be easier to clear. It is often used for patients with cystic fibrosis.5

Smart Tips for Airway Clearance

When mucus builds up in the airways, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, which can lead to infections and inflammation. Regular airway clearance can help prevent this from happening and keep the lungs healthy. Additionally, airway clearance can improve oxygen flow to the lungs, which can help reduce shortness of breath and improve overall lung function.

Airway clearance is an important part of managing bronchiectasis and can help improve quality of life for those living with the condition.

Find more resources

For more tips on airway clearance techniques for bronchiectasis, 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!

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[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] Powner J, Nesmith A, Kirkpatrick DP, Nichols JK, Bermingham B, Solomon GM. Employment of an algorithm of care including chest physiotherapy results in reduced hospitalizations and stability of lung function in bronchiectasis. BMC Pulm Med. 2019;19(1):82. Published 2019 Apr 25

[3] American Thoracic Society. “Treating Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/bronchiectasis-treatment.pdf

[4] Lung Disease News. “7 Airway Clearance Techniques.” Retrieved from https://lungdiseasenews.com/2017/11/20/7-airway-clearance-techniques/

[5] Cystic Fibrosis. “Autogenic Drainage (AD).” Retrieved from https://www.cff.org/managing-cf/autogenic-drainage-ad