How do I… loosen and clear mucus?

Mucus collecting in the airways is often a problem for aspergillosis patients, causing difficulties with breathing and even infections. Here are some tips and techniques to help you loosen and clear mucus.

Home remedies and devices:

Stay hydrated! Mucus is stickier and harder to clear if you’re dehydrated – so make sure you drink enough water every day.

Pineapple juice contains bromelain – an enzyme which is mucolytic (breaks down mucus) – so drinking a glass may help with airway clearance. However, be aware that pineapple juice has a high sugar content and may also interact with some medications (antibiotics, blood thinners).

Fill a bowl with hot water (not too hot!), put a towel over your head and the bowl, and gently inhale the steam – this can help loosen mucus at the back of the nose and throat.  A steam inhaler mug might be a more convenient alternative.

Oscillatory PEP devices, such as the ‘Acapella‘ or the ‘Flutter‘, are thought to help clear airways by shaking sputum loose and splinting your airways open as you breathe out. These may be available on prescription from your GP.

Nebulised hypertonic saline may be prescribed by your specialist. This works by thinning your phlegm and making it easier to clear with chest clearance exercises. Click here for more information on nebulisers.

Medication: Expectorants such as guaifenesin (in most over-the-counter cough syrups) work by increasing the volume of airway secretions, and making them less sticky so that they are easier to cough up.
If nothing else works, your doctor may be able to prescribe you a mucolytic called carbocysteine (called Mucodyne in the UK), which breaks down chemical bonds within the mucus to make it less viscous.

For more detailed information about clearing mucus, see this patient information leaflet written by NAC specialist physiotherapist, Phil Langridge:

When in a clinic you often need to produce sputum for testing; this video explains a technique that is widely used and is the standard technique at the National Aspergillosis Centre, Manchester, UK. It may be helpful at home too.

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