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.
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.
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:
A huff cough involves loosening the mucus and moving it through your airways before coughing it up and out.
Other tips for huff coughing include:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/18/2023.
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