Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long lasting condition that causes airflow obstruction in the lungs. People may use a COPD vest that causes vibrations against the chest wall to help soften mucus so that it moves upward.

A person may use this device with other medications, such as bronchodilators or antibiotics. Other treatments may also be available, such as lung transplant or surgery.

A person can also use a COPD vest for other conditions that involve significant issues with coughing up and expectorating mucus on one’s own.

This article explains what a COPD vest is in more detail and how it may help people with COPD.

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A COPD vest is a device that comes with an air pulse generator and an inflatable vest that people attach around their chest.

The device uses a high frequency chest oscillation technique. This means it produces bursts of air, causing vibrations against the chest that may help loosen mucus and move it to the large airway.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) states that a person may use the COPD vest for 5 minutes, then cough to remove the mucus. A whole breathing therapy session may last 20 to 30 minutes.

Different brands of COPD vests are available:

  • The Vest System
  • SmartVest
  • AffloVest
  • inCourage

Learn about COPD here.

A COPD vest is an airway-clearing device that may work for both adults and children. The CFF explains that airway-clearing techniques use vibrations to help break up mucus. They also require an individual to cough or huff to get rid of the secretions.

Healthcare professionals may recommend a COPD vest along with other treatments, such as bronchodilators and antibiotics.

COPD vest sessions may take place after inhaling bronchodilators, which help relax the muscles around the lungs.

A COPD vest uses mechanical or physical force to help people remove secretions from their airways.

Some companies offer mobile devices that they can use at home. These are battery-powered, user-friendly, and can be suitable for travelers.

One study from 2020 suggests that individuals may use these devices rather than undergoing chest physiotherapy. Chest physiotherapy is an airway clearance technique that requires another individual to perform percussions on the chest to help mucus move upward.

This is how a person may use a COPD vest:

  1. Wear thin clothing.
  2. Cover the upper chest area with the shoulder straps and adjust as needed.
  3. Adjust the closure clasps and check that a hand can easily fit between the chest and vest when breathing in.
  4. If a child is wearing the vest, pull the device down as it inflates so that it does not slide up.

Then, a person can turn the device on and pause the generator after about 5 or 6 minutes so that they can cough to clear the mucus. They may repeat this two more times.

A study from 2022 suggests that a rehabilitation vest that uses the high frequency chest wall oscillation technique may be effective for people with COVID-19. In the study, treatment lasted for 5 days, and the participants wore the vest twice per day for 5 minutes at a time.

The authors note that the vest helped improve the participants’ pulmonary function test results.

A randomized controlled trial from 2023 studied the effects of the antibiotic drug piperacillin-tazobactam with high frequency chest wall oscillation in people with COPD and pneumonia. It shows that these treatments may help with pneumonia if a person experiences acute exacerbations of COPD.

Research from 2022 also indicates that high frequency chest wall oscillation may reduce sputum production in people with advanced COPD and mucus hypersecretion.

According to Cincinnati Children’s, high frequency chest wall oscillation vests may cause irritation. People may consider wearing cotton clothing so that it offers protection between the skin and the vest.

If a person is using a COPD vest for their child, they may have to consult a doctor to check whether they are using the correct size. These visits may have to take place every year.

A 2021 study states that using high frequency chest wall oscillation vests may cause an increase in pacing rate in people who have a heart implantable device and are undergoing chest physiotherapy.

Deactivating the accelerometer-based activity sensor may help those using a high frequency chest wall oscillation vest for chest physiotherapy. An accelerometer is a sensor that detects acceleration changes that occur with body movement.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute mentions other treatments that may be beneficial for people with COPD. These include:

  • Medications: These are drugs a person inhales, which widen the muscles around the airways. A person may take them when they have COPD symptoms or every day if their condition is severe.
  • Lung transplant: This may be an option for those with a severe lung condition or who have not seen any improvements with other treatments. The procedure takes place under general anesthesia and hospital recovery may last for up to 3 weeks.
  • Surgery: This option is also for those with severe lung issues. During the procedure, surgeons may remove damaged areas from the lung or implant a one-way endobronchial valve in the bronchial tubes.

Home remedies may also help manage the condition. The American Lung Association recommends:

  • avoiding smoking, if you smoke
  • using fragrance-free cleaning products
  • limiting time outdoors if air pollution is high
  • wearing a mask to reduce the chance of developing respiratory infections

Read more COPD articles.

High frequency chest oscillation vests are airway-clearing devices that doctors may recommend to help soften mucus in people with COPD.

People may use them for 20 minutes but may have to pause the session every few minutes to cough up the mucus. There are other treatments for those with COPD, including lung transplants or surgery.