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Use airway clearance devices regularly to manage chronic lung disease, research suggests


Regular use of airway clearance devices can reduce exacerbations in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by 50 per cent after just six months’ use, and significantly improve symptoms, according to Leicester researchers.

The research, which was carried out at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), a partnership between Leicester’s Hospitals, the University of Leicester and Loughborough University, and Monash University in Australia, is published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

COPD makes it hard to breathe because of narrowing airways and damage to the lungs. In the UK, three million people are living with COPD and each year the condition causes 115,000 emergency admissions to hospital and 24,000 deaths. 

Airway clearance devices help the patient remove sputum from their airways, making it easier to breathe. Their use is supported by UK National Institute FOR Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance, but only for patients experiencing an exacerbation, as it has not been clear whether they provide any benefit for patients managing their COPD on a day-to-day basis.  

The study, which reviewed 18 randomised controlled trials of airway clearance devices for adult patients with stable COPD, found that using these devices to support everyday management of the condition reduced future exacerbations by 50 per cent. Patients also had significant improvements in their symptoms, such as breathlessness cough and sputum volume.

Dr Enya Daynes, specialist pulmonary rehabilitation and research physiotherapist at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and lead author of the study, said: “The evidence presented in this paper strengthens the case for considering the use of airway clearance devices for the day-to-day management of COPD, not just for patients with exacerbations. 

“The next step would be to conduct larger scale clinical trials to explore the cost benefits of providing a device that may reduce exacerbations and hospitals admissions for patients with COPD.”    

The paper, 'The Use of Airway Clearance Devices in the Management of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials', appears as an ‘Article in Press’ in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.


Rachael Dowling, head of research communications

07959 891193 / rachael.dowling@uhl-tr.nhs.uk