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Cystic Fibrosis: Ways to Clear the Airways

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:

Other methods use mechanical equipment to help clear mucus from the lungs. For example:

  • High-frequency chest compression vest. This inflatable vest receives high-frequency pulses of air from a generator. The vibration helps to loosen and clear the mucus from the lungs. This method can be done without the help of another person.
  • Positive expiratory pressure (PEP). A PEP device creates a constant pressure when you or your child breathes through a mask or mouthpiece. This pressure keeps the airways open, so you or your child can cough up the mucus.
  • Flutter. This device looks like a pipe and has a steel ball inside. When you or your child exhales through the flutter, the ball moves and causes the airways to vibrate. This movement is thought to help loosen and clear mucus from the lungs.
  • Acapella device. This is a small, handheld device that uses magnetic force to help loosen mucus.

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