Cystic Fibrosis: Ways to Clear the Airways

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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:
    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. Examples include:

  • High-frequency chest compression vest. You wear an inflatable vest that receives pulses of air from a generator. The tightening of the vest causes the chest to vibrate, and this helps loosen and clear the mucus from the lungs. This method can be done without the help of another person.
  • Positive expiratory pressure (PEP) therapy. You breathe into a handheld device that raises the pressure inside the lungs. Examples of devices include a PEP valve, Flutter device, or Acapella valve. The devices work in slightly different ways to help loosen and clear mucus from the lungs.

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Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerCatherine O'Malley, RRT - Respiratory Therapy

Current as ofAugust 21, 2015

Current as of: August 21, 2015