You can help prevent shortness of breath and lung infections by keeping your lungs free of mucus. Controlled coughing (coughing in time with your breathing), postural drainage (lying with your chest lower than your abdomen), and chest percussion (lightly clapping your chest) can help you loosen and expel excess mucus from your lungs. Drinking plenty of fluids also helps keep your mucus thin and easier to bring up.
Constant, uncontrolled coughing can wear you out and make you short of breath. Sitting in the correct position and using deep breathing can help you control coughing and remove mucus more easily. Whenever you need to cough, repeat this exercise until you bring up the excess mucus. Note: Be sure to keep a box of tissues beside you.
1. Sit on a chair with both feet on the floor. Fold your arms across your upper abdomen. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose and hold for two counts.
2. To exhale, lean forward slightly and cough twice—two short, sharp coughs. As you cough, use your arms to push on your abdomen.
3. Relax for a few seconds. Then repeat steps 1 through 2 as needed.
If you have a chronic mucus problem or increased mucus from an infection, lying in certain positions allows gravity to drain excess mucus from your lungs. Find positions that are comfortable for you. You can lie on a bed or on the floor, using pillows as shown, or you can prop a bed up on one end. Maintain each position for at least 5 minutes. Always do postural drainage on an empty stomach, 30 minutes after using a bronchodilator. When you need to cough, sit up and do controlled coughing. Caution: Check with your doctor before trying these positions.
To drain the front of your lungs, lie on a slanted surface so that your chest is lower than your hips. Place a small pillow under your head and two pillows under your knees. Lie with your knees bent over the pillows. Rest your arms at your sides and breathe using diaphragmatic breathing.
To drain the sides of your lungs, place a small pillow under your head and two or three pillows under your hips. Lie on one side so that your chest is lower than your hips. Breathe using diaphragmatic breathing. After 5 to 10 minutes, switch to the other side.
To drain the back of your lungs, put two or three pillows under your stomach. Kneel over the pillows, so that your chest is lower than your hips. Rest your arms by your head and breathe using diaphragmatic breathing.
Using a cupped hand to lightly clap your chest and back also helps loosen mucus. You can do this yourself, or have someone do it for you, as you're doing postural drainage. Ask your health care team to show you where and how to clap to clear each part of your lungs. Be careful not to clap on your breastbone or spine. Women should not clap on their breasts.