Huff Cough

Huff coughing is a form of coughing that has just enough force to loosen and carry mucus through your airways without causing them to narrow and collapse. For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), this saves energy and makes coughing less painful.


What is huff cough?

Huff cough is a coughing method that forces mucus (phlegm) up your throat by breathing it in, holding it and actively exhaling. It’s a controlled coughing technique, or forced expiratory technique (FET), which means it’s different from a typical cough. Not all coughs are effective in clearing excess mucus from your lungs.

A huff cough comes from deep within your lungs and has just enough force to loosen and carry mucus through your airways without causing them to collapse. Then, you’re able to cough the mucus up and out. A typical cough (or forceful coughing) causes your airways to collapse, potentially trapping the mucus you’re trying to clear. This makes it harder to cough it up and out.

With a huff cough, there’s more emphasis on breath and control. Many describe it as a similar action to fogging up a mirror. When you’re trying to fog up a window or mirror, you take smaller but more forceful exhales instead of large coughs to fog up the mirror.

In people with chronic lung disease like COPD, huff coughing can be less painful and more effective in clearing mucus from their lungs. Huff coughing saves energy and, therefore, oxygen.


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What conditions are treated with huff coughing?

People who find coughing painful or tiring can benefit from learning how to huff cough. This includes people who are recovering from surgery or who have an injury.

It’s extremely beneficial to people with chronic respiratory conditions who produce excess mucus and cough frequently. Some of those conditions include:

Procedure Details

How do you huff cough?

A huff cough involves loosening the mucus and moving it through your airways before coughing it up and out.

  1. Sit on a chair or the edge of your bed, with both feet on the floor.
  2. Tilt your chin up slightly and open your mouth.
  3. Take a slow and deep breath until your lungs are about 75% full.
  4. Hold your breath for two to three seconds. This gets the air behind the mucus.
  5. Exhale slowly but strongly. This moves mucus from your smaller airways to your larger ones. This is the “huff” part of huff coughing.
  6. Repeat one or two more times.
  7. Follow with one strong cough to clear the mucus from the larger airways. This should allow you to cough the mucus up and out.
  8. Perform these steps two or three times depending on how much mucus you have.

Other tips for huff coughing include:

  • Avoid breathing in quickly and deeply through your mouth after coughing. Quick breaths can interfere with the movement of mucus up and out of the lungs and cause uncontrolled coughing.
  • Stay hydrated with fluids throughout the day. Fluids make mucus thinner. When mucus is thin, coughing is easier.
  • Try huff coughing after you use your bronchodilator medication or any time you feel mucus (congestion) in your airways.

What does a huff cough sound like?

A huff cough is like how you’d steam up a window. It involves having your mouth slightly open and concentrating on breathing and holding in air before coughing. This is different from a traditional cough, which is quick and forceful.


Risks / Benefits

What is the benefit of huff coughing?

Huff coughing loosens mucus and helps move it through your airways instead of trapping mucus in them. Some of the benefits of huff coughing include:

  • Less tiring than forceful coughing.
  • Less painful than forceful coughing.

It’s important to learn how to get mucus out of your lungs. If mucus builds up, it can lead to infection. Talk to your healthcare provider if you need help.

Recovery and Outlook

Does huff coughing work?

Forceful or uncontrolled coughing collapses your airways and doesn’t efficiently clear mucus. Healthcare providers believe breathing in and holding the breath lets air get behind mucus and separates it from your lungs before you cough it out. Studies have shown that when people with chronic lung conditions control their coughing and use techniques to help them cough, they feel less tired afterward.


When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you have COPD or another respiratory condition that causes frequent coughing, talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to clear your lungs. Huff coughing may be a technique they suggest to help you.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Learning the right way to cough if you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or another respiratory condition can be beneficial. It can save your energy, leaving you less tired after coughing, and it may cause you less pain. Talk to your healthcare provider about the most effective way to loosen and expel mucus. Huff coughing may be a method that works well for you.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/18/2023.

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