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Coughing and Huffing Techniques

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Coughing is the most basic airway clearance technique (ACT). It can be an involuntary reflex or it can be controlled as a healthy, natural way for the lungs to get rid of mucus. 

Coughing moves mucus out of the large airways. However, moving mucus out of the small airways requires airway clearance techniques (ACTs). This is why coughing should be done with other ACTs.


With cystic fibrosis, you shouldn't try to suppress coughs, or keep yourself from coughing. Mucus is full of germs, so coughing it out of the body is very important. To avoid the spread of germs, you can cough into a tissue, throw it away and then clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand gel. If you don't have a tissue, cough into your inner elbow. If you cough into your hands, wash your hands immediately afterward.

If coughing a lot makes you feel worse, not better, you can try huffing.


Huffing, also known as huff coughing, is a technique that helps move mucus from the lungs. It should be done in combination with another ACT. It involves taking a breath in, holding it, and actively exhaling. Breathing in and holding it enables air to get behind the mucus and separates it from the lung wall so it can be coughed out. Huffing is not as forceful as a cough, but it can work better and be less tiring. Huffing is like exhaling onto a mirror or window to steam it up.

The Huff Coughing Technique:

  • Sit up straight with chin tilted slightly up and mouth open.
  • Take a slow deep breath to fill lungs about three quarters full.
  • Hold breath for two or three seconds.
  • Exhale forcefully, but slowly, in a continuous exhalation to move mucus from the smaller to the larger airways.
  • Repeat this maneuver two more times and then follow with one strong cough to clear mucus from the larger airways.
  • Do a cycle of four to five huff coughs as part of your airway clearance.
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