Airway Clearance Techniques for Cystic Fibrosis

Airway clearance, which involves the use of several techniques and devices to clear mucus from the airways, is one of the most important treatments for people with cystic fibrosis. These techniques and devices help babies, children, and adults with cystic fibrosis to feel better, and they decrease the risk of developing serious lung infections.

During follow-up visits at our Cystic Fibrosis Center, NYU Langone pulmonologists and physical therapists can teach parents and children how to perform these techniques and use the devices at home. Our doctors also provide ongoing support, so that you can help your child adhere to the daily regimen.

Chest Therapy or Percussion

One technique, called manual chest therapy or percussion, involves rhythmic clapping of your child’s chest to clear mucus from the lungs. The doctor may advise placing your child in several different positions to perform chest therapy, so that the mucus can be coughed up.

Oscillating Devices

The doctor may also recommend that your child breathe into a special device that oscillates, or vibrates, the airways to loosen mucus, making it easier to cough up. A different method that is often easier for a young child involves wearing an oscillating chest vest, which helps to loosen mucus in the chest, making it easier to expel.

Exercises

Physical therapists at NYU Langone can demonstrate a variety of breathing exercises. These are designed to help people with cystic fibrosis to push air between layers of mucus and the chest wall, making it easier to cough up the mucus and reduce blockages in the airway. One technique, called autogenic drainage, involves exhaling forcefully, or huffing, to help move mucus from smaller airways to central airways, which makes it easier to expel.

Another exercise, called the active cycle of breathing technique, is used to control breathing and relax the upper chest and shoulders, which can help to clear mucus and to prevent airway blockages.

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