Airway clearance in neuromuscular weakness

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2009 May;51(5):350-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03260.x.


Impaired airway clearance leads to recurrent chest infections and respiratory deterioration in neuromuscular weakness. It is frequently the cause of death. Cough is the major mechanism of airway clearance. Cough has several components, and assessment tools are available to measure the different components of cough. These include measuring peak cough flow, respiratory muscle strength, and inspiratory capacity. Each is useful in assessing the ability to generate an effective cough, and can be used to guide when techniques of assisting airway clearance may be effective for the individual and which are most effective. Techniques to assist airway clearance include augmenting inspiration by air stacking, augmenting expiration by assisting the cough, and augmenting both inspiration and expiration with the mechanical insufflator-exsufflator or by direct suctioning via a tracheostomy. Physiotherapists are invaluable in assisting airway clearance, and in teaching patients and their families how to use these techniques. Use of the mechanical insufflator-exsufflator has gained popularity in recent times, but several simpler, more economical methods are available to assist airway clearance that can be used effectively alone or in combination. This review examines the literature available on the assessment and management of impaired airway clearance in neuromuscular weakness.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cough / physiopathology*
  • Exhalation
  • Humans
  • Inhalation
  • Inspiratory Capacity
  • Muscle Weakness / complications
  • Muscle Weakness / physiopathology*
  • Pulmonary Ventilation
  • Respiration, Artificial / methods*
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Suction
  • Tracheostomy