A strong, effective cough is the first-line tool for clearing your lungs, according to an article Dr. W. D. Kim in a 1997 edition of the European Respiratory Journal. Coughing is the simplest home remedy, requiring neither drugs nor devices, and one you can make even more effective by learning a few simple techniques. Talk to a respiratory therapist to learn how to combine coughing, gravity and exercise into a powerful trio of home remedies.
Cough effectively to clear whatever your lungs need to expel. Coughing too much or inefficiently can be harmful, exhausting and unproductive. With the right technique, your clearance will be more comfortable and highly effective, according to the clinical guidelines of the American Association for Respiratory Care.
Begin by sitting up straight. Inhale slowly and deeply, then hold your breath for three seconds. Exhale about 1/4 of your air, then cough as forcefully as you can. Repeat three times, but rest three or four minutes between groups of three coughs if you become light-headed or tired. Repeat a series of three or four cycles every hour, if needed.
A directed, or huff, cough is similar. After you inhale, exhale until just before your urge to cough becomes irresistible. Try very hard not to cough yet. Repeat three times, then cough strongly to expel the mucus you have raised.
Cough suppressants should be used only if an excessive, dry or hacking cough is exhausting you or causing pain. Cough exercises can still be done. An occasional, productive cough should not be suppressed.
Postural drainage makes use of gravity to drain mucus from your lungs. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, this is best done with the help of another person. Ask a respiratory therapist or clinician trained in the technique to demonstrate it and teach you and a family member or friend the techniques of positioning, chest percussion and vibration.
Lie on your bed with the portion of your lung you want to rid of mucus uppermost. Hold this position for up to 15 minutes while practicing your coughing techniques. Your helper should use cupped hands to clap the upper chest wall to mobilize the mucus. Alternatively, hands can be pressed on your chest and vibrated quickly for the same purpose. Pressures should be firm but never hard enough to cause pain.
Exercise is an important preventive home remedy for lung clearance, according to Karen Conyers, a registered respiratory therapist at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Regular exercise when you are well builds up the chest, abdominal and accessory muscles you'll need for effective coughing. Exercise training for your coughing muscles is one important goal of pulmonary rehabilitation for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Any exercise you can tolerate when you are sick, plus plenty of fluids, will help mobilize mucus and get air behind it for a powerful, expulsive cough.