Flutter valves are devices that can clear excess secretions from the airways. A person with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may benefit from using a Flutter valve to help manage symptoms.

The Flutter valve works by increasing airflow behind secretions and moving them into the main airways. This helps a person get rid of the secretions through coughing. A person must be in an upright position to use a Flutter valve.

An Acapella valve is an airway clearance device that works in a similar way. However, people may use it in any position, not just upright.

This article discusses the Flutter valve for COPD, including the risks, as well as instructions for use and storage. It also examines the difference between a Flutter valve and an Acapella valve.

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Excess or thick mucus can be difficult to cough up and clear out of the airways. The Flutter valve helps people with respiratory conditions such as COPD cough up mucus. A 2021 research review notes that the aim of this device — and other airway clearance techniques — is to remove excess secretions and help decrease airway obstruction.

Some benefits of airway clearance techniques include:

  • preventing respiratory tract infections
  • improving the gas exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the lungs
  • expanding a collapsed area of the lung
  • reducing inflammatory response in the airways

Different airway clearance techniques work in different ways. The Flutter valve falls under a category called positive expiratory pressure (PEP), which involves exhaling against resistance. It combines PEP with back-and-forth movements called high frequency oscillations.

While PEP increases the flow of air behind secretions, the oscillations produce vibrations within bronchial walls to move secretions into the bronchial opening. The bronchial tubes are the two large airways that connect the windpipe to the right and left lungs. The Flutter valve’s oscillating PEP system also encourages the movement of secretions from the smaller airways into the bronchial tubes.

Once secretions move into the bronchial opening, a person can cough them out. The authors of the 2021 review note that PEP systems, like the Flutter valve, are excellent in managing the early stages of COPD.

Pharmacies carry Flutter valves, but a person will need a doctor’s prescription to purchase one.

The Acapella device operates with the same system as the Flutter valve — both use the oscillating PEP. While they have other differences, both devices can treat the same conditions, notes the 2021 research review mentioned earlier.

One distinction between the devices is that the use of the Flutter valve depends on gravity, while the use of the Acapella valve does not. This means that people must be in an upright position to use the Flutter valve but may not have to be in this position if using the Acapella device.

A person using a Flutter valve may have a risk of infection. Evidence in the 2021 review mentioned earlier indicates that risks include the possibility of pneumothorax and hemoptysis.

Pneumothorax is the presence of air in the cavity between the chest wall and lungs, which can cause the organ to collapse. Hemoptysis is when a person coughs up blood from their lungs.

Instructions are below:

  1. Get in an upright position.
  2. Inhale, or take in a deep breath through the nose.
  3. Put the mouthpiece in the mouth in a horizontal position, and close the lips tightly around it to create a tight seal. Hold breath for 2–3 seconds.
  4. Perform a long steady exhalation, letting out the breath into the device.
  5. Adjust the resistance to create the most vibrations that are felt in the lungs.
  6. Repeat up to 10 times.
  7. End the session with 1–2 full-capacity inhalations followed by maximal exhalations through the device.
  8. Cough strongly 2–3 times and spit out mucus.

A person can ask their doctor how many times to repeat the cycle. However, a 2017 study provides some idea, as it found that using a Flutter valve 30 minutes per day for 4 weeks can be beneficial.

A person should clean the Flutter device every day.

Below are steps for cleaning:

  1. Take apart the device, following directions in the instruction manual.
  2. Soak the device parts for 15 minutes in warm, soapy water.
  3. Take each piece out of the water, rinse, and shake off excess water.
  4. Allow the parts to dry on a clean, dry towel.
  5. When dry, put the device back together and store it in a clean place.

The Flutter valve for COPD is a device that clears secretions from the airways, which can help prevent respiratory infections and improve lung function. It works similarly to other airway clearance techniques.

The device uses an oscillating PEP system to increase airflow behind secretions and move them into the opening of the bronchial tubes. This allows secretions to be cleared through coughing.

The Acapella valve works similarly, but unlike the Flutter, it does not require the person using it to assume an upright position.

To use the Flutter, a person inhales deeply through the nose and then slowly exhales into the device. After 10 repetitions, they cough strongly once or twice, then spit out the mucus. There may be some risks associated with using a Flutter device, so a person may want to talk with a healthcare professional to see if one would work for them.