Dear COPD Coach,
I was diagnosed with COPD a year ago. I am constantly bringing up lots of mucus. Sometimes it is harder to get the mucus up and what I bring up is sometimes very thick. This especially happens in the morning and late in the evening. Sometimes it is like I don’t have enough strength to cough it up and I get severely short of breath trying to cough. Until I am able to get the mucus out, I just can’t breathe! What is the best way to get the mucus out?
Many people with COPD have a chronic bronchitis component to their COPD, and daily efforts to get the mucus out become a big part of their everyday life. The first question I would have is whether or not you have discussed this with your doctor. There is medication available that will help thin out the mucus and make it easier to “bring up.”
There are also especially effective cough techniques that you can learn from a Respiratory Therapist that can give you good results without completely tiring you out.
With that said, there are a few mucus clearing devices that are available that can greatly ease the process.
One of the more inexpensive alternatives is called the Flutter®. This device is shaped like a pipe and can be easily carried with you in your pocket or purse. The way the Flutter® works is that it vibrates the airways loosening the mucus from the airway walls. The problem with the Flutter® is that it must be held at a precise angle in order for it to have the maximum effect.
Another inexpensive device is The Acapella®. It works on the same principal but uses different mechanics that allow it to be used at any angle. Originally it came in either high flow or low flow, but now comes in an adjustable model that also breaks down for cleaning.
A more expensive alternative is High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation with units like The Vest®. This involves wearing a rubber vest that looks kind of like a life jacket that oscillates the chest wall which loosens mucous. First developed for cystic fibrosis patients, it can be very effective for COPD patients. It is also very expensive.
A newer alternative is Intrapulmonary Percussive Ventilation (IPV). Intrapulmonary percussive ventilation delivers rapid, small volumes of air to help loosen retained secretions. Using a mouth piece, and often a nebulizing medication, you can adjust the strength of the pulse over the course of the treatment. While once only available in a hospital setting, it is now available in a home model. The cost of this unit is also significant.
There are of course other devices and variations available. Each one will have advantages and disadvantages over others in terms of effectiveness and cost and ease of use.
Again, I recommend that your situation is best determined by talking with your doctor, and then checking on your insurance reimbursement.
I hope this helps, and be sure to let us know how you are doing!
The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
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