How Increased Mucus in the Lungs Is Treated

techniques to clear mucus from the lungs

Verywell/Emily Roberts

There are a variety of treatments that can help reduce excessive mucus build-up in lung diseases like bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Such options include methods like controlled coughing, medications like expectorants, and techniques like chest physiotherapy. Your doctor may recommend using more than one to control mucus levels.

Increased mucus in the lungs is common with lung conditions, and the secretions can block already-narrowed air passages, making it difficult for you to breathe. Mucus can also become a breeding ground for pathogens.

Not only can these treatment options help reduce symptoms related to mucus production, but they can help you avoid infections such as bacterial pneumonia.

techniques to clear mucus from the lungs
Illustrated by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

If you have lung disease, you can learn several at-home exercises to help prevent and decrease the mucus in your lungs. These simple techniques are most effective when used on a regular basis, before excessive mucus accumulates.

Controlled Coughing

Controlled coughing is a therapeutic technique that engages the chest and stomach muscles in a way that improves mucus clearance. There are two common methods of controlled coughing.

Deep coughing:

  • Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the ground.
  • Wrapping your arms around your stomach, inhale deeply.
  • Keeping your lips pursed, emit a forceful cough while compressing your arms firmly against your stomach muscles. This forces the diaphragm to do more of the work.

Huff coughing:

  • Take a deep, slow breath to fully fill the lungs.
  • Then, tensing your stomach muscles, make three rapid exhalations with your mouth open, making a "ha" sound with each exiting breath.
  • Continue repeating this, keeping your core firm, until you feel the mucus breaking up. You can then take a deep cough to clear your lungs.

Unlike hacking, which uses the chest muscles more than the diaphragm, controlled coughing focuses on stabilizing the core muscles to engage the diaphragm more effectively.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises involve taking prolonged breaths to help your lungs expand as you inhale (breath in) and to push out excess air as you exhale (breath out).

This is among a group of therapies described as pulmonary hygiene—techniques that use modifications in physical positioning to clear lung secretions.

Your therapist can teach you deep breathing techniques that you can do at home on a regular schedule.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

There are several OTC medications that can help clear excess mucus from your lungs.

Expectorants are usually available without a prescription, although some combination expectorants may contain ingredients that require one. Robitussin and Mucinex (both are versions of guaifenesin) are examples of commonly used expectorants.

These medications thin mucus by lubricating it, so that it can be easily coughed up. Expectorants can also block the production of mucins, the main protein found in mucus.

Prescriptions

Mucolytics thin the lung secretions using a different mechanism than expectorants. These medications are often only available by prescription.

Mucolytics include N-acetylcysteine and carbocysteine. They work by breaking the chemical bonds in mucus to help make the secretions easier to cough up.

Chest Physiotherapy

Chest physiotherapy (CPT) includes techniques that are performed either manually or with a mechanical device. Some techniques can be done alone, while others require help from a partner, such as a therapist or a family member at home.

Manual CPT combines percussion (in which cupped hands are repeatedly clapped against the chest or back) and vibration (in which flat hands vibrate the chest wall) to loosen the mucus and induce a cough.

Your therapist may show you how to get into a position that uses gravity to help drain mucus.

Airway clearance devices are hand-held machines that use high-frequency vibration, low-frequency sound waves, and other techniques to break up mucus. They are easy to use by yourself. Some of the devices are worn like a vest, while others require you to breathe into them like a flute.

These mucus clearing exercises should be done on a regularly scheduled basis to keep your air passages unobstructed. While you are having chest physiotherapy, you should inhale and exhale slowly and fully until the mucus in loose enough to be expelled.

The routine can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to perform.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

You can also use natural remedies to help decrease the mucus in your lungs. Keep in mind that some CAM therapies can have side effects, despite being natural.

CAM therapies that can help clear mucus include:

  • Warm fluids: Drinking warm (not hot) liquids can help loosen thickened mucus by warming your chest temperature. Options include tea, warm broth, or hot water with lemon.
  • Steam: You can use a device such as a cool-mist humidifier or steam vaporizer to breath in warm air. Alternately, you can take a hot shower or breathe in vapors from a pot of simmering water. These methods introduce moist air into your air passages, which helps loosen the mucus.
  • Honey: Honey may decrease inflammation and symptoms of a cough. It is not clear whether honey specifically helps in coughing up mucus.
  • Chinese medicine: Chinese herbs and treatments have been used to treat all medical illnesses, often with anecdotal reports of improvement. However, data is not clear about the benefits in terms of reducing mucus in the lungs. A few herbs—mao huang (Herba ephedrae), tao ren (Semen persicae), and Huang qin (Radix scutellariae), and qigong have been suggested as alternatives that may ease symptoms of respiratory disease.
  • Essential oilsOils are becoming very popular. Because they are often inhaled, they may affect lung disease. Some oils that have been proposed as treatments for symptoms of lung disease include eucalyptus, peppermint, bergamot (orange), rosemary, and oregano. You can add a few drops to a vaporizer or create a homemade vapor rub by mixing 12 drops of essential oil with a quarter cup of coconut oil.

Speak to your doctor before trying any herbs, supplements, or oils. Be very careful with inhaled oils, as they may cause an inflammatory or allergic lung reaction.

A Word From Verywell

Reducing mucus secretions and coughing up the material can help prevent infections, so it is important to use mucus-reducing strategies on a regular basis—not just when the effects act up. Talk to your doctor or respiratory therapist about the best strategies for managing your excess mucus if you have been diagnosed with pulmonary disease.

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