What are the airway clearance techniques?

There are a variety of airway clearance techniques. If you regularly produce sputum, or when you have a flare up, then you should discuss your airway clearance needs with your respiratory physiotherapist. They will assist you to find a technique that works best for you. Some of these may include:

  • Independent breathing regimens, such as the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques and Autogenic Drainage.
  • Respiratory devices, such as positive expiratory pressure devices (for example, PEP and Astra PEP) and oscillating positive expiratory pressure devices (for example, Flutter Device, bubble pep, Turbo Forte® and Acapella®).
  • ‘Hands on’ techniques, such as percussion and expiratory vibrations to the chest wall.
  • All airway clearance treatment regimes should include effective huffing and coughing to clear secretions.

In most instances a huff uses a medium volume breath in, followed by a short, sharp forceful expiration (breath out like you are trying to fog up a window) that helps to move sputum towards the mouth so it can be cleared. This is particularly useful if their airway tends to collapse with coughing. If a wheeze is heard on the breath out then the expiration is too forced and you may need to breathe out slower. The wheeze represents further airway narrowing and may cause sputum not to be cleared as effectively.