Improving Airway Clearance by Leaps and Bounds


Airway clearance is a very important part of staying healthy when you have cystic fibrosis.  Because of the basic defect, CFers have thick mucus that can build up in the lungs.  I do respiratory therapy twice a day to combat this problem.

There are a few different methods of airway clearance.   One method is called P&PD, percussion and postural drainage.  With this method, the body is angled to help the lungs drain and the lungs are percussed with a cupped hand to loosen mucus so it can be coughed out.  I remember my mother doing this daily on my sister Sheri when we were young.  We called it thumping.  I also utilized this method during and after my CF health crisis in 2007, but it’s a bit tricky to perform on yourself.

A second type of airway clearance is to use an airway clearance vest.  I can’t knowledgeably report on this method because for various reasons, my doctor feels that other techniques are more effective so I don’t have one.  However, I understand that the vests use air compression to increase airflow in the lungs and loosen mucus which can then be coughed up.  One benefit of this method is that you don’t need someone to perform it on you like with the P&PD and you can do other things simultaneously like complete breathing treatments, read, or blog (who doesn’t love multitasking?).  Some patients do vest treatments for hours each day.

A third method is called PEP therapy.  PEP stands for positive expiratory pressure.  In this method, the patient breathes into a device which provides resistance and vibration.  The positive pressure generated by breathing through the resistance opens the airways and helps air to get beneath pockets of congestion and the vibration helps loosen the mucus so it can be moved to the larger airways where it can be coughed out.  This is the method I use most often.


You might think that asking your husband to take a picture of you doing airway clearance is a simple request, but this photo shoot deteriorated rather quickly…

I do this twice a day after using a bronchodilator to open my airways and saline solution to lubricate them.

Recently, I have implemented a new technique for airway clearance…jumping!  I stumbled upon some articles that reported that jumping is an excellent way to loosen and clear congestion.  It has been researched mostly as a method for children because other types of airway clearance may be difficult or unsafe.  Plus, jumping is fun so kids like it.  Enjoyable airway clearance is not a bad idea for adults either.  I decided to try it and I am loving it!  We bought a little trampoline and put it in the basement.

imageI have been doing my normal breathing treatment followed by the PEP respiratory therapy and then jumping on the trampoline for about 15 minutes each morning.  I have been surprised at how much congestion I’ve been able to bring up.  It’s not uncommon for me to cough up as much or more than I do performing the PEP respiratory therapy.  If I need to cough hard, I just hop off and sit on the side.  It is great exercise, but because I’m not using it in that way, I don’t get frustrated if I need to step off for a moment.  I feel exhilarated and joyful when I jump.  Maybe that’s because it makes me feel like a kid again, or maybe it’s just adrenaline and endorphins, but either way, it sure beats lying in an awkward position and pounding on myself.  It may not be an official method of airway clearance, but it works great for me!