Compromised airway clearance: A growing health concern

cacTo protect various organs, the human body continually produces mucus. Mucus acts as an air filter, trapping particles and impurities while preventing them from entering the lungs.

For the body to function properly, it must routinely clear itself of mucus. However, a range of diseases and conditions — including genetic and immunological disorders, neuromuscular diseases, and obstructive pulmonary conditions such as asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) — can hamper a person’s ability to clear the airways, and do so in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Produce an excess of abnormally thick mucus
  2. Interfere with bodily processes that transport secretions away from the lungs
  3. Diminish the ability to cough up mucus

Pathway to lung damage

An inability to clear the body’s airways is a major health risk. Retained mucus in the respiratory tract often precedes a spiral of declining health effects, including impaired breathing, lung infections and permanent lung damage.

When bacteria, viruses, allergens and other irritants captured by mucus can’t be expectorated, the body’s lung defenses take action. The inflammatory and immune systems boost mucus production. More mucus accumulates, inviting bacteria trapped in stagnant secretions to cause infection, such as pneumonia. If not adequately treated, the cycle tends to repeat.

Research links excess pulmonary secretions to many adverse health effects:

  • Chronic respiratory inflammation
  • Increased risk of pneumonia and other lung infections
  • Airways becoming plugged with mucus, resulting in obstructed airflow
  • Episodes of acute illness
  • Scarring, widening and weakening of the lungs’ larger air passages
  • Progressive lung injury and obstructed airflow
  • Sharply accelerated decline in respiratory function
  • Increased rates of hospitalization
  • Accelerated decline in health
  • Premature death

Restoring airway clearance

For people with impaired airway clearance, improved bronchial drainage is the best defense against airway inflammation, infections and other complications. To help patients in the battle, clinicians typically prescribe multiple therapies, including prescription medicines, chest physiotherapy, special coughing postures and techniques, and cough-assist accessories.

If those therapies, in combination, don’t provide adequate relief from symptoms, or fail to reduce or eliminate recurring breathing problems and respiratory infections, high frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) is a proven therapy option for treating compromised airway clearance.