Back to Basics
Clearing the Airways
The body’s respiratory system has sev eral ways to keep itself clean. When you think about it, the lungs are the only internal organ to have contact with the outside world!
Your nose is the first defense. As you breathe in, large particles are stopped in the hairs while mucus traps smaller particles.
The nose, trachea (or windpipe) and much of the lower airway are lined with cells that produce mucus to trap the smaller particles that have gotten through. These are called goblet cells. Cells that have cilia, tiny hairs that beat upward to clear unwanted debris, are also present. They move the unwanted particles to your throat so you can cough them out. When you smoke, the cilia do not work effectively.
These two types of cells gradually disap- pear as the airways get smaller; they aren’t present in the alveoli – the air sacs where you exchange fresh oxygen for carbon dioxide brought to the lung from the body. The airways are also surrounded by smooth muscle that constricts to keep harmful particles from getting deep into the lungs. You may have felt this when exposed to an irritant in the air as smoke, aerosols or cold weather.
When you cough, the fast expiratory flow rate and positive pressure actually shear the mucus free from the airway walls and carry it out. The upper airway has receptors that react to irritants and trigger the cough reflex.
You take in a deep breath and the vocal cords (or glottis) are closed to build up a high expiration pressure in your lungs. The cough reflex initiates an abrupt opening of the glottis, which produces an explosive blast of air from the lungs that propels the mucus out. People with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at a disad- vantage as they often cannot take a large breath in to be effective and their weak respiratory muscles cannot build up a high pressure.
COPD is characterized by an increased number of goblet cells that secrete excessive amounts of mucus. The airways become chronically inflamed and their diameter will become smaller. If you have had a productive cough for at least three months in two consecu- tive years, you may be diagnosed as having chronic bronchitis.
Bronchiectasis is a respiratory disorder in which your airways become dilated and distorted, al- lowing mucus to pool as the cilia cannot clear it. This can make you vulner- able to infections.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disorder characterized by overproduction of thick mucus affecting the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems. People who have CF must undergo a daily regimen to remove secretions and maintain lung function; otherwise, they’re prone to developing po- tentially fatal respiratory infections.
Pneumonia causes pooling of secretions in the air sacs and lower airways, leading to decreased oxygen levels and lung collapse. Bacterial or viral pneumonia develops when a person breathes in foreign matter that breeds infection.
Neuromuscular diseases may also place people at higher risk for developing in- creased pulmonary secretions. Examples in- clude myasthenia gravis, which results from a breakdown in communication between the nerves and muscles, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, an acute disease that produces fever and an immune attack on the nerves. The muscle and nerve problems can reduce effectiveness of your cough, causing you to retain more secretions.
Contributing factors to excessive secre- tions include smoking, air pollution and occupational exposure to irritants. Having anesthesia or sedation may depress the body’s cough reflex.
We are excited to be able to work with Monaghan Medical Corporation to provide the Aerobika® to people who struggle with secretions.
When you breathe into the device, you will encounter some resistance. This resistance will create positive pres- sure inside your lungs which will hold your airways open. Think of when you blow up a balloon, it is the positive pressure that holds the balloon open. Inside your lungs this positive pressure opens up the small airways that may be blocked by mucus.
The Aerobika® has a valve that switches quickly between higher and lower resistance. This vibration – or oscillation – inside the lungs loosens and seems to decrease the thickness of the mucus. So between the positive pressure opening the small airways and the oscillations loosening the mucus, it will be easier for you to raise the secretions. Getting out excess mucus improves breathing and reduces the chance of infection.
The Aerobika® is offered to our mem- bers at the reduced cost of $79.95 plus $5.95 for shipping. If you would like to order, please call 1-800-950- 3698. Website ordering will be available soon.