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Clearing your chest

How to independently clear your chest:

The following leaflets demonstrate ways to effectively clear sputum from your chest.

pdf icon Active cycle of breathing leaflet:


Coughing clears your airways of sputum and irritants such as dust or smoke.

A productive cough or chesty cough means sputum is coughed and cleared from your airways which will allow you to breathe more easily as the sputum will not be blocking your airways.

A non-productive or dry cough can be caused by dryness or a sensation of something in the throat that does not shift with coughing however you are able to breathe normally.


What is a Chronic Cough:

Most coughs clear up within three weeks and don't require any treatment.  A cough becomes chronic when it persists after 3 weeks, sputum has been cleared from the airways and infections have resolved but the cough remains.

It is possible that your throat may become irritated after an infection has resolved, if this happens there can be an increased urge to keep coughing. It is important to avoid a cycle of continual coughing as it can cause pain and tenderness in the throat, upper chest area, stomach and pain in the abdominal muscles.


What can cause a cough?

Short term cough causes:

  • A flare-up of a long-term pulmonary (lung) condition such as; asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • An upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), that affects the throat, windpipe or sinuses such as; the flu, a cold, laryngitis or sinusitis.
  • A lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) that affects your lungs or lower airways, such as; pneumonia.
  • An allergy such as hay fever.
  • Inhaled dust or smoke, mis-swallowing of food or liquids.  

Chronic cough causes:

  • A long-term respiratory tract infection.
  • Long term pulmonary (lung) conditions such as; asthma or Bronchiectasis.
  • Allergies or smoking.
  • Sputum dripping down the throat from the back of the nose, caused by conditions such as rhinitis or sinusitis. 
  • Certain types of prescribed medicine, i.e medicines to treat high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Cough suppression techniques:

The following techniques can be used to help suppress a cough. They can be used together or apart as you see fit, you know your cough triggers best and will therefore know which suppression techniques work for you. They must be used consistently to self-manage your cough.

Aim to keep working at suppressing the cough for as long as each bout of coughing continues.

Use a combination of the following techniques below if you feel a cough coming on:

The Hold, Blow, Sip, Swallow technique -  Identify the sensations you have in your throat just before you start coughing. Is it a scratching, tickling, catching or a ‘closing’ sensation?

The moment you experience the sensation…

·         Hold your breath for a count to five – 1,2,3,4,5

·         Blow the air out of your mouth as if blowing candles.

·         Sip some water.

·         Swallow while tucking your chin down towards your chest.

·         Take another sip of water immediately. This will soothe the voice box and help thin out the mucous that builds up in your throat.

·         Make a habit of sipping some water every 15 minutes or so to keep your throat moist.

Other strategies to try:

·         Try two strong sniffs in quick succession and then blow out gently through pursed lips.

·         Try a strong sniff followed immediately by blowing out through pursed lips. Swallow hard several times.

  • Inhale through a straw and exhale through pursed lips (eg gentle blowing out through mouth) or make the sound “sssss”.
  • As the throat feels calmer, take a sip of water or cordial but only if you are confident it will not trigger the cough again.
  • Slow panting with tongue out.
  • Sipping very cold water before a cough starts can sometimes prevent it.


Remember you can always seek advice from your GP if you have concerns regarding your chronic cough.

Useful links:

Hospital services A-Z

Respiratory pages

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