What is clearing your lungs?

Postural drainage

Postural drainage is a series of body positions that use gravity to drain mucus from the lungs into the mouth so the person can spit it out. Postural drainage often helps people who have chronic lung disease, such as cystic fibrosis, to drain mucus from different parts of their lungs.

Draining mucus from the lungs can:

  • Help prevent infections, which may lead to fewer lung problems.
  • Open airways, which can lead to better breathing.
  • Lead to an improved quality of life.
  • Reduce the risk of life-threatening complications.

How to do controlled coughing to clear your lungs

Coughing is how your body tries to get rid of mucus. But the kind of coughing you cannot control makes things worse. It causes your airways to close. It also traps the mucus in your lungs.

Controlled coughing loosens mucus and moves it through your airways. It is best to do it after you use your inhaler or other medicine. Follow these steps for controlled coughing.

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair, and keep both feet on the floor.
  2. Lean forward a little, and relax.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and fold your arms over your belly.
  4. Hold your breath for 3 to 5 seconds before the exhale.
  5. As you exhale, lean forward. Push your arms against your belly.
  6. Cough 2 or 3 times as you exhale with your mouth slightly open.

    Make the coughs short and sharp. Push on your belly with your arms as you cough. The first cough brings the mucus through the lung airways. The next coughs bring it up and out.

  7. Inhale again, but do it slowly and gently through your nose.

    Do not take quick or deep breaths through your mouth. It can block the mucus coming out of the lungs. It also can cause uncontrolled coughing.

  8. Rest, and repeat if you need to.

How do you do postural drainage?

Postural drainage means lying down in different positions to help drain mucus from your lungs.

Hold each position for at least 3 minutes. Your doctor or therapist will tell you how long. Do it about 30 minutes after you use your inhaler. Make sure you have an empty stomach. If you need to cough, sit up and do controlled coughing.

  1. To drain the front of your lungs: Make sure your chest is lower than your hips. Put two pillows under your hips. Use a small pillow under your head if it helps you feel more comfortable. Keep your arms at your sides. Then follow these instructions for breathing:
    • Breathe in: With one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, breathe in through your nose. Push your belly out as far as possible. You should be able to feel the hand on your belly move out, while the hand on your chest should not move.
    • Breathe out: When you breathe out through your mouth, you should be able to feel the hand on your belly move in. This is called belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing. You will use it in the other drainage positions too.
  2. To drain the sides of your lungs: Place two or three pillows under your hips. Use a small pillow under your head. Make sure your chest is lower than your hips. Do belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing). After you drain one side, turn over and drain the other side.
  3. To drain the back of your lungs: Place two or three pillows under your hips. Use a small pillow under your head if it helps you feel more comfortable. Kneel over the pillows. Place your arms by your head. Do belly breathing (diaphragmatic breathing).

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