Learning About COPD and Clearing Your Lungs

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How does clearing your lungs affect COPD?

Picture of postural drainage positions

When you have COPD, you may have too much mucus in your lungs. Learning to clear your lungs may help you save energy and improves your breathing. It may also help prevent lung infections.

There are three ways to clear your lungs:

  • Controlled coughing
  • Postural drainage
  • Chest percussion

How do you do controlled coughing?

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 comes from deep in your lungs. It loosens mucus and moves it though your airways. It is best to do it after you use your inhaler or other medicine.

  1. Sit on the edge of a chair. Keep both feet on the floor.
  2. Lean forward a little. Relax.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Fold your arms over your belly.
  4. Lean forward as you breathe out. Push your arms against your belly.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 5 minutes. 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. 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. 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, you should be able to feel the hand on your belly move in. This is called 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. Use diaphragmatic breathing. After 5 or 10 minutes, switch sides.
  3. To drain the back of your lungs: Place two or three pillows under your hips. Use a small pillow under your head. Kneel over the pillows. Place your arms by your head. Use diaphragmatic breathing.

How do you do chest percussion?

Chest percussion means that you lightly tap your chest and back. The tapping loosens the mucus in your lungs.

  • Cup your hand, and lightly tap your chest and back.
  • Ask your doctor where the best spots are to tap. Avoid your spine and breastbone.
  • It may be easier to have someone do the tapping for you.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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