How to Clear Your Lungs

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People with lung diseases may have extra mucus in their lungs.  This can block the small airways and make it hard to breathe.  

Have your doctor or respiratory therapist show you how to use these steps to clear your lungs 

Clear your lungs at least once a day or more often if:

  • You feel tired or short of breath much of the time.
  • You have a lot of mucus or mucus is a dark color.
  • Your doctor says you should.  

Postural drainage (Positioning)

You can use different body positions to help drain mucus out of the lungs.

  • Do this procedure at least 1 hour before or 1 to 3 hours after eating.
  • Use your inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you start if your doctor has  told you to.
  • Lie so that the part of the lung that is to be drained is higher than the  rest of the lung.
  • Your doctor or respiratory therapist will show you which positions  to use.  
  • You may need someone to help you with some positions.  
  • You can use a pillow or a blanket for support.  
  • Hold each position for 5 to 15 minutes depending on what your doctor  has told you.  

Chest Clapping  

Tapping on the chest and back using this method will help loosen mucus.  

  • Put a light shirt or towel over the area where you will do the chest  clapping.
  • Do not clap directly on bare skin.
  • Remove rings, watches, and other jewelry from your hands.
  • Form a cup with your hand by holding your fingers together and bending them at the knuckles.
  • Press your thumb against your index finger and bend your wrist  slightly.
  • Clap your hand firmly on the part of the chest or back you are  working on.
  • Clapping should not hurt.  Alternate between hands, using a fast regular rhythm.
  • Clap over your rib cage but not on stomach area, breastbone, or spine.    


Vibrating your chest after clapping helps move the mucus to the larger airways so that it can be coughed up.

  • Gently push on the area of the chest where you have done  the clapping.
  • Keeping the arm and shoulder stiff, vibrate chest making a  fine shaking movement (like shivering).  
  • Breathe out as you vibrate your hand.  
  • It may be easier to have someone else help you do this.

Controlled Coughing  

  • Coughing helps loosen mucus. These steps help you control your coughing so that your airways stay open and mucus moves up from your lungs.
  • Sit straight or slightly forward in a chair.  
  • Place your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent and your arms  resting in your lap.  
  • Bend your head forward slightly.  
  • Take a breath and hold it, then take another breath and hold it.  
  • Take a third breath, then cough.  
  • If you cannot get a good cough, repeat these steps but cough twice.  
  • Have tissues ready for when you cough up mucus.