Airway Clearance Therapies

Our Minnesota Cystic Fibrosis Center is one of only 15 in the United States to be designated as a Therapeutic Development Center by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
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The goal of airway clearance therapies is to loosen the thick and sticky mucus so it can be cleared from your lungs more easily by coughing. That will help you or your child breathe more easily and lessen the likelihood of developing a lung infection.

Our Approach

At the Minnesota Cystic Fibrosis Center at the University of Minnesota, we believe that having an expert care team with you throughout your life, from the point of diagnosis, is the best way to live well with CF. Your M Health care team will include physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse coordinators, social workers, dietitians, respiratory therapists, genetic counselors and experts from a variety of different clinical specialties depending on your needs. We cover the entire spectrum, including diagnosis, treatment and research aimed at understanding and controlling all the potential complications of CF. Our CF program at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital has been providing care to children and adolescents from around the world for more than 50 years.

Airway clearance therapies can take a variety of forms, but all are easy to perform and involve coughing or huffing ─ taking a breath and holding it, then actively exhaling. Huffing can be less tiring than coughing.

Here are some of the main types of airway clearance therapies performed by specialists at the University of Minnesota:
  • Manual Bronchial Drainage (BD) therapy. This method involves postural drainage positioning to help mucus drain with the assistance of gravity. This is always performed in conjunction with percussion, which is the clapping of cupped hands over the chest wall. In rare instances, the use of a mechanical device, known as a percussor, is used in addition for increased intensity of therapy. This treatment helps to move mucus from the smaller to larger airways so it can more easily be cleared.
  • High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO). This is a method of airway clearance that uses an inflatable vest attached to an air pulse generator to rapidly inflate and deflate the vest garment. This method creates an independent and consistent treatment for airway clearance.
  • Oscillatory Positive Expiratory Pressure (OPEP). This technique involves breathing through an external device that causes both resistance and oscillations with exhalation. The combinations of these two principles allow mucus to clear more easily. This is often used in conjunction with HFCWO treatments, when portability is needed for work or school, camping, traveling, etc.
  • Physical exercise. Working a fitness plan that is appropriate for your age and condition can help your lungs function better. Exercise that is strenuous enough to make you breathe harder can also help with mood, energy, social relationships and better health in general.
  • Breathing techniques. The Active Cycle of Breathing Technique (ACBT) involves specific ways of breathing to help you relax your airways, get air behind the mucus and force mucus from your lungs. Autogenic Drainage (AD), or “self-drainage,” is an approach that uses different speeds of breathing to move mucus from your chest.

Your doctor will recommend the use of medications in conjunction with airway clearance therapies. These may include medicines that help thin mucus, inhaled antibiotics to help treat or prevent lung infections and inhaled medicines called bronchodilators to widen airways.

Conditions We Treat

Airway clearance therapies help people manage the symptoms of cystic fibrosis and other lung conditions.

Call your preferred location to schedule an appointment or submit an online request.