If you have bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) , clearing mucus from your lungs is an important part of treating your lung disease. Excessive buildup of mucus or phlegm can block narrow airways, making it difficult to breathe. Increased mucus can also lead to infections such as pneumonia .
Fortunately, a variety of treatment options can help, including controlled coughing , medications, and chest physical therapy. These are some of the methods your doctor may recommend to reduce the amount of mucus in your lungs and reduce symptoms.
Home remedies and lifestyle
If you have lung disease, you can exercise at home to prevent and reduce mucus build-up in your lungs. These simple techniques should be done regularly to loosen and remove excess mucus.
Controlled coughing is a therapeutic method that uses the muscles of the chest and abdomen to clear mucus from the lungs. There are two common methods of controlling a cough.
- Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Wrap your arms around your stomach, take a deep breath.
- Keep your lips compressed and cough vigorously by pressing your hands firmly against your abdominal muscles.
- Breathe deeply and slowly to fully expand your lungs.
- Exhale quickly three times while contracting your abdominal muscles. With each breath, make the "ha" sound.
- Repeat this, keeping the core firm, until you feel the mucus tear.
- Cough deeply to clear your lungs.
Unlike a tearing cough, which uses the chest muscles more than the diaphragm, a controlled cough aims to stabilize the core muscles so they can communicate more effectively with the diaphragm.
Deep breathing exercises involve inhaling (inhaling) and exhaling (exhaling) slowly to help the lungs expand. It is one of a group of treatments called lung hygiene , which uses physical manipulation techniques to help expel sticky mucus and clear the lungs.
Your therapist can teach you deep breathing techniques that you can do at home on a regular schedule.
Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments
Expectorants thin and thin the mucus so it can be easily coughed up. They can also block the production of mucin, an important protein found in mucus.
Expectorants are generally available without a prescription, although some combination products that contain expectorants and other ingredients may require a prescription.
Mucolytics , which include N-acetylcysteine and carbocysteine, are often only available by prescription.
These drugs work differently from expectorants. They break down chemical bonds in mucus to help relieve coughs.
Chest physiotherapy (CPT) includes techniques that are performed manually or with a mechanical device. The procedure can last from 20 minutes to an hour. You can do some of the techniques yourself, while others require the help of a partner, such as a therapist or family member at home.
- Manual CPT combines percussion and chest vibration to thin mucus and induce coughing. For chest percussion, a therapist or a loved one slaps you on the chest or back to loosen the thick mucus in your lungs so you can cough. The vibration is carried out by touching the chest wall with flat hands and making shaking movements.
- Airway cleaners These are handheld machines that use high-frequency vibrations, low-frequency sound waves, and other methods to break up mucus. They are easy to use on your own. Some devices are worn like a vest, while others require you to breathe them like a flute.
During chest physical therapy, breathe in and out slowly and fully until the mucus is loose enough to clear. Your therapist will show you how to get into a position where gravity helps clear mucus.
Exercises to clear mucus should be done regularly to keep the airways clear.
You can also use natural remedies to reduce the amount of mucus in your lungs. Be aware that some complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) methods have side effects even though they are natural.
CAM treatments that can help clear mucus include:
- Hot liquids : Drink warm (not hot) liquids It can help thin thick mucus. Options include tea, warm broth, or hot water with lemon.
- Steam : You can use devices such as a cool mist humidifier or a steam vaporizer to breathe warm air. Alternatively, you can take a hot shower or inhale the fumes from a pot of boiling water. These methods inject moist air into the respiratory tract, which helps loosen mucus.
- Honey : Honey can reduce inflammation and cough. However, it is not clear whether honey specifically helps cough up mucus.
- Chinese medicine : Chinese herbs and medicines have traditionally been used to reduce the amount of mucus in the lungs, and there are isolated reports of improvements. However, scientific evidence does not provide a clear indication of benefits. Several herbs have been proposed to relieve respiratory symptoms: mao huang ( ephedra herb ), tao ren ( peach seed), and huang qin ( scutellariae root ). Qigong (breathing exercises and movements) can also help.
Talk to your doctor before trying any herb or supplement. Do not inhale oils as they can cause an allergic or inflammatory reaction in the lungs.
Removing mucus from the lungs is an important part of treating lung conditions such as bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) . Controlled coughing, deep breathing, prescription and over-the-counter medications, chest physical therapy, and alternative therapies can all play a role in reducing, thinning, and coughing up mucus to prevent lung infections.
Get the word of drug information
It is important that you use these strategies to reduce mucus on a regular basis and not just when symptoms disappear. If you've been diagnosed with a lung disorder, talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist about the best approaches to managing mucus buildup.