If you have phlegm or otherwise thick mucus in your lungs, you can have issues such as breathlessness or shortness of breath, and an increased chance of getting a lung infection like pneumonia. If you have a condition that makes it hard for phlegm to clear from the lungs such as cystic fibrosis, a spinal cord injury, or COPD, you may want to try airway clearance techniques such as those found here.
How to Clear Mucus in Lungs
1. Deep Coughing Technique
Instead of a hacking cough or clearing your throat, deep coughing uses less energy but is more effective for clearing phlegm from your throat and lungs. This technique uses the powerful stomach muscles to push air out and remove sticky, thick mucus.
- Start with sitting on the edge of a bed or a chair, with your feet flat on the ground, and lean forward slightly.
- Fold your arms over your stomach, breathe slowly with your nose and hold for 3 seconds.
- Use your abdomen muscles to push air out and then cough deeply 2-3 times.
- Purse your lips to exhale.
- Repeat until the phlegm is cleared from your lungs.
2. Huff Coughing Technique
You can also use several ‘mini’ coughs that are low in pressure, or huff coughing, instead of a single cough. This coughing can be used to help clear phlegm from your airways.
- Push old air out of lungs by breathing slowly and prolonging exhalation in 3 to 4 short breaths.
- Slowly inhale and take a deeper than normal breath.
- Open your airway, and take 3 rapid breaths using your stomach muscles. Make a ‘hu, hu, hu’ sound and control your exhalation with your diaphragm.
- Repeat the process for several times.
3. Chest Physiotherapy (CPT) Technique
This technique of clearing mucus in lungs is often given by a respiratory therapist or caregiver. CPT or chest physiotherapy involves firmly but gently clapping on your back or chest with a cupped hand. This will help to loosen thick phlegm from your lungs.
Tips for Performing Chest Percussion
- Get in a position in between lying down and sitting up, using pillows to brace and support yourself.
- Have your therapist or caregiver clap their hand against the space between your collarbone and nipple on the left side of your chest a few times. Repeat again on the right side.
Tips for Performing Back Percussions
- Sit on your chair or bed and lean forward slightly. Wrap your arms around a pillow.
- Ask your therapist or caregiver to clap carefully against your left shoulder blade for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this on the right side.
4. Postural Drainage
This means choosing different lying down positions to clear the phlegm in lungs. These positions should be held for about 5 minutes each. It’s best to be done about half an hour after your inhaler. It is best done on an empty stomach and if you need to cough, sit up using the deep coughing technique.
Front Lung Drainage
- Lie on your back. Keep your chest lower than your hips by using pillows. Keep your arms to your sides.
- Breathe in the following manner: place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly, breathe in. Push your belly out as far as you can. You should be able to feel your hand move with your belly and your hand on your chest should stay still. Your hand on your belly will move in when you breathe out. This is diaphragmatic or belly breathing. It can be used with other drainage positions.
Draining the Sides of Your Lungs
- Lie on one side. Place several pillows under your hips and a small one for your head. Keep your hips higher than your chest.
- For 5-10 minutes, use the belly breathing technique, and then switch sides.
Draining the Back of Your Lungs
- Breathe from your belly.
- Keep your arms near your head.
- Place a few pillows under your hips, one under your head and lie on your stomach.
5. Expectorants or Mucus Medicine
These medications are commonly used to specifically help loosen up mucus in lungs. This will allow you to cough up secretions and clear out your lungs more effectively. These medications come as prescriptions and over-the-counter ones and they include:
6. Devices for Clearing Mucus
You can also use devices to clear phlegm from your lungs. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions and consult your doctor whenever needed. Some devices you can use include:
- Flutter Mucus Clearance System
- High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO)
- PEP or Positive Expiratory Pressure therapy
- Lung Flute Acoustic Impedance Device
7. Keeping Hydrated
To insure your phlegm isn’t too sticky or thick, drink plenty of fluids through the day. Making sure you are well-hydrated during the day will help make it easier to cough up and expel the phlegm. You should try to drink about eight, eight-ounce cups of water daily, unless your doctor tells you differently.
You should also avoid beverages loaded with sugar such as fruit and soft drinks, as well as caffeinated drinks, because they can make more phlegm. Be careful with dairy because it will also increase your mucus secretions.
8. Inhaling Steam
Inhaling steam will provide you with heat and moisture for your lungs, helping to break up mucus in lungs and chest. It is a simple process. Fill a large bowl with boiling water, and place a few drops of tea tree oil, peppermint oil, eucalyptus, or rosemary oil to it. Adding these oils will make a strong vapor that will provide relief as you breathe it in. Do this 4-5 times in a day.
Please note if you are coughing up blood, it may be a sign of a worsening infection such as pneumonia, cancer or tuberculosis. Please make sure to visit your doctor if you are coughing up phlegm with blood in it.