I like to MOVE IT, MOVE IT... Mucus Clearance Part 2
Last week I started the first of my two part Mucus Clearance blogs. It was a hit! Thank you so much for reading and welcome to BreatheLiveFit if you are a new subscriber. (If you missed my post last week and want to read Mucus Clearance Part 1 click here!) Remember, if you subscribe to my website you will get an email when I post new content so there’s no need to rely on Facebook to keep you in the loop. It’s free and so why not?!
I am really focusing on this topic because you all have emailed me with questions about it and I really do think that many people with lung conditions struggle to keep their lungs free of mucus. In part one, I wanted to focus on the over the counter and homeopathic ways of getting and keeping your lungs clear. Part two will be more focused on medical and physician prescribed methods of lung clearance. I am going to try and go into as much depth without you feeling like you need a medical degree. I do encourage you to ask your physician if you feel like one of these methods might be of some benefit to you. No two people are the same and what worked for your aunt, brother, or best friend, may not work for you, however I do feel that it is always good to know your options.
I want to first point out that I am not getting any endorsements by mentioning these products. These methods are used all across the U.S. by pulmonary physicians, respiratory therapists, and nurses… that is why I am sharing them with you. I am an Amazon affiliate (because it is nice to be able to link items when I talk about them) but other than that, I have no ties to the companies that make or sell these products.
So let’s get into it!
Prescription medicines for mucus clearance
Mucomyst – This medicine has been around for ages and is commonly prescribed to thin mucus making it easier to expel. It is typically prescribed to be nebulized but can be prescribed orally as well. If nebulized you may be asked to use it in conjunction with other nebulized medications but ask your doctor before mixing it with anything. Most of my patients remember taking this medication due to its “over cooked egg” smell which isn’t important medically yet isn’t pleasant either.
Dornase Alpha (Pulmozyme) – This is an inhaled medication that also helps to thin mucus. Many Cystic Fibrosis patients use this medication daily to assist with their mucus clearance. What I LOVE about this drug is that it actually destroys the DNA of the mucus which in turn breaks up thick mucus that can get “caught” down in your lung and cause an infection. Isn’t that the coolest?! Dornase Alpha is a medicine which results are immediate… it isn’t a therapy whose effects will last for hours. Be aware of that and if ordered, use it in conjunction with coughing and our airway clearance strategies. Because of its fancy capabilities I do remember this medication being pricey several years ago. I know what you are thinking… “Aren’t they all pricey?”… So I would definitely check to see if it’s financially feasible if you go in this direction.
Hypertonic Saline – Hypertonic saline comes in a couple of different strengths (3% and 7%). When we say “hypertonic” we are talking about saline that has a higher salt content in it than normal saline. Hypertonic saline is designed to be nebulized and the idea is if we can put more salt into the lungs that the excess salt will attract more water. More water + mucus = thinner mucus… which in turn should be easier to expectorate. How about them apples?
All of these medications (just like anything you take) may have some side effects. However, none of these prescriptions are brand new so I can tell you that many of your physicians will be well versed and should know if any of them may help you with mucus clearance.
Now let’s talk mucus clearance strategies!
Depending on you lung diagnosis, there is a lot that goes into the strategy that you can use for mucus clearance. Often time the strategy that you will use will have a combination approach. For example, your physician may want you to increase your water intake, take an over the counter expectorant (like Mucinex) then 2-3 times a day nebulize possibly using a mucolytic and then use an airway clearing strategy to help move mucus into the larger airways and follow it up with some deep coughing to expectorate. It can definitely be a process but one that can be well worth it to prevent or clear up a lung infection.
Postural Drainage – I am really getting into some meat and potatoes of respiratory therapy y’all! Without getting into too much detail, what I wanted to mention about this (which if you think about it makes sense)… if you have mucus congestion in one area of your lungs you will want to help drain that area by positioning yourself with the affected side up. This is something that you can easily do while napping or sleeping. For example: if you have developed pneumonia in your right lung, position yourself on your left side with your right side (lung) up in the air. That way mucus and fluid can drain out of that particular lung toward the larger airways and allow you to cough it out. In the hospital, we have fancy beds that allow us to tilt our patients in different directions to help with draining mucus out the lungs, at home this isn’t something that you have handy, but I thought it was important to know if your chest congestion was localized to one side or the other. You could use this technique after a mucolytic treatment, allow yourself to lay there for 20 minutes following the treatment then try and see if you are able to mobilize any secretions in your lungs.
PEP Therapy – Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) Therapy helps get air into the lungs and hopefully behind the mucus allowing you to expel it with a cough. When you use a PEP device you exhale into the device which provides a slight resistance. The devices I love the most are the Acapella and Flutter devices. When you exhale or (blow gently) into these PEP devices the back pressure causes an oscillating percussion… kind of gentle vibrations on the lungs to help “shake” the mucus loose. Typically after inhalation therapy, you would perform 10 exhalations followed by a few good deep coughs or huff coughs. PEP Therapy sessions can definitely tire a lung patient out due to exhaling using a resistive device and coughing. Make sure you follow your doctor’s recommendations for using them. I have linked the product below through Amazon for ease of purchase but check to see if ordered, would your insurance cover the cost.
Chest Physical Therapy – Chest PT or CPT is an airway clearance technique that involves percussion and vibration of the chest in conjunction with postural drainage. It should be done by a trained individual. This person does not need to be licensed (they can be a spouse, parent, friend or caretaker) but should definitely be trained and know what they are doing. Essentially the lung patient would get into several different positions and the person performing the CPT would percuss the chest to help “rattle” or dislodge and move mucus into the larger airways. After the percussion is complete, the lung patient should cough to see if they can bring up any mucus.
The Vest Airway Clearance System – I decided to list the Vest as its own strategy for airway clearance because to my knowledge… there is nothing like it. The Vest has given those who need chest PT performed daily freedom to be self-sufficient because they don’t need someone to be available for percussion. The technology know has high frequency chest wall oscillation or (thankfully) HFCWO for short is just revolutionary. Their website says that it “serves to assist patients in moving retained secretions from smaller airways to larger airways where they can more easily be removed by coughing.” They have many different sized vests to fit their patients various sizes and the company has an entire clinical team to help assist their clients. The vest is definitely a great option for someone who struggles with mucus clearance on a daily basis. If deemed beneficial to a lung patient, many times health insurance will cover some or all of the cost. Bonus!
What types of mucus clearance strategies have you tried? Please share them in the comment section below if you think others might benefit from something you may have tried.
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