Vest therapy is part of cystic fibrosis chest physical treatment. Vest therapy uses a device that vibrates with a high frequency. This can help loosen up mucus in the airways.

Vest therapy consists of wearing a high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) vest that can help with the daily airway cleaning routine. Doctors may recommend that people with cystic fibrosis use the vest in their daily treatment to help clear excess mucus from the airways.

Read on to find out more about vest therapy. This article discusses how it works, its benefits, and more.

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Cystic fibrosis vest therapy is a type of treatment that aims to clear up the airway walls from mucus and lead it to the large airways. People undergo this treatment by wearing a device similar to a vest that provides a high-frequency vibration.

Clearing the airways is an important part of the treatment routine that people with cystic fibrosis should perform daily. Vest therapy can provide treatment that does not require any type of skill to be performed properly.

People can receive vest therapy without having to keep any specific positions or perform any breathing techniques.

However, people may have to stop the machine and interrupt the treatment various times during a session to cough and allow mucus movement.

The vest therapy machine consists of two pieces of equipment. One is an air-pulse generator, and the other is an inflatable vest connected to the generator through a hose.

A person with cystic fibrosis puts on the vest. The generator inflates and deflates the vest about 20 times per second.

This creates pressure on the chest similar to a percussion movement. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation describes this pressure as being similar to clapping.

This makes the chest vibrate, and it can help move excess mucus out into the large airways.

Vest therapy usually lasts approximately 20–30 minutes. About every 5 minutes, a person should stop the device and try to induce coughing to help remove more mucus from the airways.

People can repeat this treatment multiple times throughout the day. Doctors can recommend how often a person with cystic fibrosis should use this device.

Vest therapy can help loosen mucus in the airways. To make the treatment more effective, a person should stop the machine during the treatment and then cough. This helps move mucus.

However, vest therapy should not be the only type of treatment used to clear the airways. Other treatments may be more suitable for some people.

People can receive vest therapy multiple times per day. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital recommends vest therapy twice per day: once in the morning and once in the evening.

However, people with cystic fibrosis should not use vest therapy as the only airway clearance technique.

Currently, there is no evidence that one airway clearance technique is superior to the other. A doctor may recommend a combination of various different techniques.

Doctors and physical therapists can recommend the most effective treatment plan based on the personal requirements of each individual. They can also advise on how frequently a person should receive vest therapy and other treatments for cystic fibrosis.

There are no particular risks of using a cystic fibrosis vest. However, it may not be suitable for people with any of the following:

  • rib fractures
  • vertebral fractures
  • osteoporosis
  • increased susceptibility to bleeding (bleeding diathesis)
  • elevated intracranial pressure
  • recently coughing up blood

People with cystic fibrosis can also use other clearance techniques to remove excess mucus from their airways. These may vary from person to person. There are also techniques that people can perform without using any device.

Other airway clearance techniques for cystic fibrosis may include:

  • Percussion: People can use their hands to clap on their chest wall to help lead the mucus out of their lungs. People can perform this exercise by keeping their hands in a cup position and cuffing their chest for 3–5 minutes.
  • Vibration: After percussion, people can place their hands and forearm in a flat position against their chest wall. They can then tense their muscles to produce a smooth vibration. This exercise can help move the mucus out of the lungs.
  • Deep breathing: After percussion and vibration, deep breathing can help remove excess mucus from the lungs. This can cause coughing, which can also contribute to getting rid of the mucus in the airways.

A 2019 review found that there is no specific exercise that results in clearing the airways more effectively than the others. Doctors and physical therapists can recommend to each person the most appropriate type of airway clearance techniques based on their health conditions and lifestyle.

Learn more about cystic fibrosis treatments.

Vest therapy can help people with cystic fibrosis loosen the mucus that can stick to the walls of the airways.

People will need to wear a vest on their chest when they receive this treatment. The vest therapy machine rapidly inflates and deflates the vest. This creates a vibration that facilitates mucus movement out into the large airways, helping to clear the lungs.

Vest therapy can be very effective in clearing the airways. However, doctors may recommend a combination of different airway clearance techniques for the daily treatment of cystic fibrosis.