Cystic fibrosis airway vest systems


Many people with cystic fibrosis (CF) and other medical conditions use high frequency chest vibration (HFCWO) vests, also known as airway cleaning systems, as part of their daily airway cleaning routine .

If you plan to wear a therapy vest, you certainly have a few questions that you will want to answer before deciding whether HFCWO is right for you or your child. This article covers some of the frequently asked questions (FAQ) about these systems.

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What HFCWO Vests Look Like

HFCWO vests are similar to life jackets for water sports. They are made of a soft, flexible material that is similar to the material used for blood pressure cuffs. Attached to the vest are one or two large flexible plastic hoses that connect to a small car. Two well-known brands of these vests include:

The new type of vest has built-in separate oscillating mechanical modules that provide freedom of movement without restrictive hoses or heavy generators:

  • AffloVest – Produced by International Biophysical Corporation .

How do they work

The goals of HFCWO treatment are the same as for any other method of cleaning the airways: to break up the mucus and help transport it to the upper respiratory tract, from where it can be coughed up or removed by suction. The device, connected to the vest, is an air compressor that pumps air currents to rapidly inflate and deflate the vest approximately 25 times per second. This creates slight pressure and vibration in the chest, which does three things :

  1. Breaks up mucus, making it thinner
  2. Creates a "mini cough" in the lungs that helps to expel mucus.
  3. It accelerates the movement of the cilia, helping them carry loose mucus to the upper respiratory tract.

Who can wear HFCWO vests

There is no minimum age for HFCWO therapy. Usually when the baby's chest size becomes large enough to fit the vest, he or she can start wearing the vest.


These systems can be expensive or difficult to obtain. New vest models can cost anywhere from $ 15,000 to $ 20,000 and may not always be covered by insurance. For example , most insurance companies require certain criteria to be met before agreeing to pay for a vest. For example, some insurers may require documentation of frequent respiratory infections or evidence that other airway clearance techniques have been used with limited or no success.

Advantages and disadvantages

For some, the vest offers an excellent alternative or complement to manual chest physiotherapy (CPT), but it is not necessarily the best option for everyone. The decision to use HFCWO therapy or not is a choice based on personal preference and doctor's recommendation (see chart below).


  • Treatment can be done without help.
  • It does not require any skills, so all treatments will be done correctly.
  • The freedom to do other things during the treatment, because no special postures or breathing techniques are required.
  • It heals all lobes of the lung at the same time, so the treatment time is shorter than manual CPT.


  • New vest models can cost anywhere from $ 15,000 to $ 20,000 and may not always be covered by insurance.
  • Access to electricity is required.
  • When you travel, you must take your equipment with you. The compressor weighs between 10 and 30 pounds, depending on the model.

How and where to get the HFCWO vest

HFCWO vests are available by prescription only. If you plan to wear the vest, talk to your doctor or the team at the CF Treatment Center.

A Guide to Analyzing Cystic Fibrosis for Healthcare Professionals

Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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