Airway Clearance

Normally, mucus protects the airway from inhaled irritants. The mucus lays on the airway like a blanket of jelly. Hair like structures called cilia are positioned along the airway to sweep the blanket of jelly containing debris and bacteria with mucus in it upward so that it can be coughed out. In people with CF, the mucus is thick and sticky making it difficult for cilia to sweep like they should, making it difficult to remove the mucus.

Airway Clearance Techniques (ACTs) are treatments that help the CF patient move secretions out of their lungs. These techniques clear the airways of mucus that are causing or could cause infection.

Importance of Airway Clearance

  • Loosens mucus so that it can be cleared by huffing or coughing
  • Moves mucus from small to central airways to be coughed or huffed out
  • If air gets behind mucus and airflow is increased, mucus is pulled along
  • The result is reduced lung infection and improved lung infection

ACTs are often used with other treatments, including inhaled bronchodilators, which open the airways; medications that help thin and move the mucus (mucolytics), and antibiotics, which help to fight the bacteria. These medications can be taken through a nebulizer before, during or after ACTs. Inhaled antibiotics should be taken after ACTs are finished and the lungs are as clear of mucus as possible. This will allow the medication to reach deeply into the airways to attack bacteria.

There are many different forms of Airway Clearance Techniques available. Your Respiratory Therapist can show you how to perform many different ACTs and help decide which technique will best meet your needs. The best ACT is the one that you are most likely to perform as part of your daily treatment plan.