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Cystic Fibrosis Treatment: Clearing Heavy Mucus from the Lungs

Wed, 12/23/2015 - 14:42 -- IV Solutions

There are many cystic fibrosis treatments for clearing heavy mucus from the lungs, the most commonly known and prevalent symptom of CF. This is responsible for the primary cause of mortality (80%) in people with cystic fibrosis; respiratory failure.

Advances in treatment and technology have increased the prognosis from early childhood to 40 years and beyond. Each generation benefits from the most modern advancements in medicine and this number continues to rise.

We now have inhaled medications to treat bacterial lung infections and thin the mucus lining the lungs. Coupling these with long known chest therapies works to clear mucus from the lungs and drastically improve lung function.

Physical Airway Clearance Techniques

Coughing and Huffing

The most basic ACT is coughing, something the body does naturally. Huffing is a gentler, less tiring way to force air out of the lungs. It’s like “huffing” your breath to steam up a window.

High-frequency Chest Wall Oscillation

High-frequency Chest Wall Oscillation, or the Vest, is an inflatable vest vibrated at a high frequency by a machine. A treatment lasts 10–40 minutes. The mucus is shaken and dislodged from the lungs until it can be coughed or huffed out.

Postural Drainage and Percussion (PD&P)

Also called Chest Physical Therapy (CPT or Chest PT), involves a person taking different positions to let gravity move the mucus inside the lungs. Clapping on the person’s back, chest, and sides rattles loose the mucus so it can exit of the body. Children and adults with CF can learn to do the clapping themselves.

Learn more in our crash course about Cystic Fibrosis Chest Therapy 101: ACT.

Mucus Reduction Medications

DNase (Pulmozyme)

Pulmozyme is inhaled during breathing treatments. The medicine “cuts” through the DNA in mucus, making the mucus thinner. The thinner mucus is easier to cough or huff out so it’ easier to breathe comfortably.


Acetylcysteine, or N-acetylcysteine (NAC), breaks down the proteins in mucus. The medication also creates the helpful antioxidant glutathione (GSH), boosting the immune system.

NOTE: Acetylcysteine is not approved to treat cystic fibrosis, but it is prescribed for its off-label benefits.

Saltwater Solution

A ‘low-tech’ treatment option discovered by Australian surfers with CF, sterile salt water helps replenish the salt levels in the liquid that lines the airways. This hypertonic saline therapy should be administered after bronchodilators (which open the airways). As always, it is important to consult your physician before trying any new treatment techniques.

Medications for Opening the Lungs


These are a class of drugs that open the airway passages. They are usually separated into two categories, short-acting and long-acting. Short-acting bronchodilators are usually used to treat asthma attacks or for quick relief from symptoms. Long-acting bronchodilators are usually used in more serious cases of chronic asthma to reduce the prevalence and severity of attacks.


These are a type of bronchodilator that act by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain. They are used to treat a wide variety of muscular spasms by blocking involuntary movements. This is effective in preventing the airways from involuntarily contracting and restricting respiration.

 Do you have questions about CF Treatment Options?

We hope that this article has been informative and helpful in various cystic fibrosis treatment options for clearing heavy mucus from the lungs. If you have any questions regarding CF treatment options, IV Solutions has on-call pharmacists, provides 24-7 patient support, and reimbursement assistance. For more information, call 1-800-658-6046.


Cystic Fibrosis and the Respiratory System. Stanford Children’s Health. July 14, 2013. Accessed Sept 10, 2015

How Cystic Fibrosis Affects Breathing and the Lungs. WebMD. Sept 9, 2014. Accessed Sept 10, 2015

Saltwater Solution Offers Novel Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis Patients. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. March 12, 2012. Accessed Sept 10, 2015

Anticholinergics. Healthline. June 4, 2013. Accessed Sept 10, 2015

Asthma Health Center. WebMD. Jan 28, 2015. Accessed Sept 10, 2015