This cold and flu season may be exacerbated by COVID-19, so it’s wise to take extra precautions to protect your lungs and your respiratory health. While your lungs can and do repair themselves, you can take steps to help support that process by clearing mucus so you can breathe easier and hopefully avoid complications from infection.
The impact of COVID-19 has caused us to focus even more intensely on the health of our lungs. We need these vital organs to function properly to keep ourselves at peak health. Breathing in toxins from air pollution, cigarette smoke and other sources can damage the lungs and cause health problems like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
One thing that’s amazing about the lungs is that they are self-cleaning organs. They begin to heal themselves quickly after exposure to pollutants such as cigarette smoke stops.
The best way to keep our lungs healthy is to avoid inhaling pollutants and toxins in the first place. However, depending on where you live, it can be tough to avoid breathing in polluted air. In these cases, you may want to explore one of the following options for helping your lungs cleanse themselves…
Tips for clearing out mucus
Once the lungs have been exposed to toxins, mucus begins to form to capture those pathogens. Too much mucus can make the chest feel congested or inflamed and make it difficult to breathe.
There are a number of ways to help your lungs expel this excess mucus. Coughing is the body’s natural way of trying to clear phlegm, but you can make this process even more efficient through controlled coughing, a process that loosens the excess mucus and sends it up through the airways and out of the body.
To engage in controlled coughing for mucus clearing, follow these steps:
- Sit on a chair or the edge of your bed with both feet on the floor. Lean slightly forward and relax.
- Fold your arms across your stomach and breathe in slowly through the nose. You want to make sure you get the air moving, since that’s where the power of the cough comes from.
- Lean forward, pressing your arms against your abdomen. Slightly open your mouth and let out 2-3 short, sharp coughs. The first cough loosens the mucus and moves it through the airways, while the second and third coughs expel the mucus up and out.
- Breathe in again by sniffing slowly and gently through your nose. This gentle breath helps prevent mucus from moving back down your airways.
- Perform again if necessary.
Another way to help the body get rid of mucus is through postural drainage, which uses gravity to do the job. You want to make sure your stomach is at its emptiest before doing postural drainage, so the best time is either before a meal or 90 minutes after a meal.
You can either sit or lie on your back, stomach or side, and position your head flat, up or down. Whichever way you choose, make sure to use pillows to prop your hips higher than your chest. Breathe in slowly through the nose and out through your mouth, with breathing out taking twice as long as breathing in. Stay in that position for at least 5 minutes for optimal drainage.
You can add percussion or vibration to postural drainage to help break up thick phlegm in the lungs. For percussion, cup your hand and wrist, then clap it against your chest. You should hear a hollow, popping sound, not a slapping sound, and it should not hurt. To practice vibration, take a deep breath and blow out hard. Then, gently shake your ribs with a flat hand. Do percussion or vibration for 5 to 7 minutes in each area of the chest. When you finish, take a deep breath and cough, which should allow you to bring up and spit out any mucus loosened by the procedure.
Fire up some steam
Cold, dry air tends to make it more difficult to breathe since it dries out the airway’s mucous membranes and restricts blood flow. In steam therapy, you inhale warm water vapor to open your airways and help your lungs drain mucus.
Many drugstores sell devices you can use for steam therapy. But if you don’t have one, you can easily create your own steam bath. Boil some water, then pour it into a large bowl placed on a level, stable surface like a counter or table. You can add a few drops of essential oil to the water; eucalyptus and lavender are especially good for breathing problems.
Take a towel and form a tent over your head, then lean over until your face is about 4 to 6 inches from the water’s surface. Keep your eyes closed and directed away from the steam to avoid burning them. Inhale the steam slowly and deeply for 10 to 15 minutes, then repeat twice a day as needed.
As far as diet goes, make sure you’re getting plenty of antioxidants to help support good lung health.
For example, the antioxidants in green tea can be helpful for reducing inflammation in the lungs and may even protect lung tissue from the damaging effects of smoke inhalation.
You might also consider adding a black seed oil to your diet. Dr. Peter Schleicher, an immunologist in Munich, Germany conducted five major studies on the golden-colored oil of the black seed that was mainly being used as a therapeutic agent for respiratory problems. In one of the studies, Black Seed Oil was tested on 600 patients experiencing health problems ranging from allergies to pollen and dust, problems breathing and dermatitis. A remarkable 70 percent, or 420 of the participants, became symptom-free and experienced total relief. You can read more about that here, from my colleague, Virginia Tims-Lawson.
Natural ways to cleanse your lungs — Medical News Today
Coughing: Controlled Coughing — Cleveland Clinic
Postural drainage — Mount Sinai
Chest Congestion Relief- Steam therapy — Perea Clinic