Productive Coughing

To cough up mucus to expel the mucus in your airways, can be very difficult indeed.  The key to using  a cough to clear mucus from your airways is to be fully relaxed at all times. This is lot easier said then done. Explosive or uncontrolled coughing causes airways to collapse and spasm, trapping mucus.

The effective cough comes from deep within the lungs and has just enough force to loosen and carry mucus through the airways without causing them to narrow and collapse. Controlled coughing saves energy and therefore, oxygen. Explosive coughing can be VERY EXHAUSTING.

Sometimes mucus is actually too deep and not ready to be cleared with a cough. Repeated hacking coughs to try and dislodge this deep mucus is not helpful and very exhausting. Often you have to go back a step and do some airway clearance technique to move the mucus up higher , then do a couple of huffs to really move the mucus up and then finally your cough will be effective.

In the end, we are all different and the best way for you is quite frankly, by reading what you can about Productive or Controlled coughing and using the method that works best for you.

To help you get started, here is a method extracted from the Cleveland Clinic of the USA for COPD patients.

To cough effectively:-

1. Sit on a chair or on the edge of your bed, with both feet on the floor. Lean slightly forward. Relax.

2. Fold your arms across your abdomen and breathe in slowly through your nose. (The power of the cough comes from moving air.)

3. To exhale: lean forward, pressing your arms against your abdomen. Cough 2-3* times through a slightly open mouth. Coughs should be short and sharp, but not forced.Remember an effective cough comes from deep in your lungs. It is a controlled firm RELAXED movement.

* The first cough loosens the mucus and moves it through the airways. The second and third cough enables you to cough the mucus up and out.

4. Breathe in again by “sniffing” slowly and gently through your nose. This gentle breath helps prevent mucus from moving back down your airways.

5. Rest

6. Perform again if needed.


Avoid breathing in quickly and deeply through your mouth after coughing. Quick breaths can interfere with the movement of mucus up and out of the lungs and can cause uncontrolled coughing.

Drink 6-8 glasses of fluid per day unless your doctor has told you to limit your fluid intake. When mucus is thin, coughing is easier.

Use the above technique after you use your bronchodilator (eg Ventolin) medication or any time you feel mucus in your throat


To read the full Cleveland Clinic article Cleveland Clinic Productive Coughing

Our suggestion is to start by using the above method and then adapt the method to suit what works best for you. For example you may find that you can be more successful standing up, rather than sitting down.

Explosive and uncontrolled actions are to be avoided. In fact, e.g  a violent cough can collapse the airways making mucus clearance much more difficult