Mucus and COPD

November 2nd, 2011 | Author: COPD Coach

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?


Dear Stuffy,

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.

If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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  6. b campbell says:

    Is there anything you can take for this cough x

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  8. mary koziatek says:

    I was wonder if you have trail runs on the vest

  9. Very helpful post. Time-tested mucus relief I can recommend is drinking plenty of liquids. The right liquids can help loosen mucus. Also you can give yourself a steam treatment. Just let the warm steam travel down your sinus and throat to loosen up mucus that’s lodged in there. Plus get plenty of rest.

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  12. Have you tried some eucalyptus or mint or even honey to help expel some mucus out? I hope you have found a way or seek medical expert regarding your situation. – Howard Long

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  14. Louanne says:

    I have successfully utilized the Acapella device for a few years, along with mucus medication, The Acapella device works great,along with drinking extra water to keep secretions manageable. However, with latter stage lung disease,( myself) there are times when more aggressive methods are required.

  15. Doug says:

    Drinking a sufficient amount of water per day also thins the mucus making it easier to expel…

  16. Probably the most frequent respiration disease signs and symptoms you have with this problem is you are going to have some coughing.

  17. Susie Johnson says:

    My husband quickly gets really great relief by using Kali Bichromicum 6x, a Homeopathic remedy for thick mucus. I have used it for the last stages of a cold when I have thick mucus and it works the same way.

  18. Linda Clemson says:

    Why has my Mum stopped coughing up Mucas, it has only just dawned on me that this has stopped.Mum used to cough alot and have a toliet roll with her at all times?

  19. Jim says:

    Very informative posting. Thanks.

  20. I can vouch for the flutter device, I struggle with this issue and the flutter really helps. It take a while to really get good at using this device properly but once you get it down, it truly does the trick, for me! Hang in there!

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