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Do You Practice COPD Airway Clearance?

To begin, what exactly does the term "airway clearance" mean? We hear this term a lot in the community, but what is it?

What is airway clearance?

Airway clearance helps to rid the lungs of excess mucus using inhaled medications in combination with other therapies that move mucus up and out of the lungs.

These therapies are designed best when performed at least twice a day. The reason we do clearance techniques is to reduce lung infections and improve overall lung function.

I know it seems like with COPD patients, everyone is different. Some produce mucus and others seem to be almost too dry and don’t produce any.

I, myself, produce a lot of mucus. I thought at one time that I might even have bronchiectasis, but my doctor assured me that I did not.

Airway clearance techniques

Over the years, I have learned about a few various methods, which include these:

Active cycle of breathing technique: This combines different breathing techniques to help clear the mucus from the lungs in three phases.

The first phase helps you relax your airways. The second phase helps you get air behind the mucus and clears it. The third phase helps force the mucus out of your lungs.

Autogenic drainage means “self drainage” and uses different breathing speeds to move mucus.

Chest physical therapy: This is an airway clearance technique that drains the lungs and may include percussion or vibration. Think devices like the acapella or AirPhysio, and huffing or huffing with coughing.

High-frequency chest wall oscillation: This method involves an inflatable vest attached to a machine. The machine mechanically performs chest physical therapy by vibrating at a high frequency, which causes the chest to vibrate and loosen mucus.

I started airway clearance a little over a year ago. It seemed like I could never get rid of all my mucus, no matter what I did. I had read an article in a lung matters group that talked about how important it was to clear our lungs to keep out infection and help us breathe better with that mucus out of the way.

I also read that nebulizing with sodium chloride was helpful in getting that gunk out of the lungs. Another process I did was to use the breathing techniques above, including huffing, coughing, and using the acapella.

Airway clearance and COPD

All of these combined made a big difference. After discussing these things with my doctor, he agreed that I should be using all of these techniques and wrote me a prescription that day for the sodium chloride. I do want to point out that I am not giving any medical advice here, just sharing what has helped me.

Since starting these clearance techniques, my lungs have been much better, and I can’t believe the difference in my breathing after clearing them. I have only had to take one round of antibiotics this year.

I wonder why it isn’t common practice for doctors to tell us things. I have talked to many other COPD patients about this, and they have mentioned that their doctor never mentioned anything about it to them, either.

You’d think that they would want to help us prevent infection, which is exactly what these techniques help with. Like always, we are our best advocates and must ask for things they aren’t offering us.

Watching some videos online is a great way to see airway clearance in action. You can find them on YouTube and in a Google search. The COPD Foundation, The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and many other resources have many there.

Have you heard of these techniques, and if so, do you practice them? Please share with us in the comments below.

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