Greetings from India

I made it here in one piece, more or less.  The very early morning temperature is 85°F and the dew point is just about the same - we are talking major league humidity.  I have recovered  from the obligatory jet lag, but not from the nasty viral infection I picked up along the way.  The past few days have become a fever hazed memory. But I do remember reaching for the Tylenol bottle several times, whenever the fever went beyond 103° F.  Otherwise, it has been lots of rest and plenty of fluids.

Today I am feeling better.  The only pesky symptom still bothering me is chest full of congestion.  I swear I am just about sloshing as I walk around.  Any amount of coughing is not doing an adequate job of loosening all that gloppy phlegm in my lungs and bringing it up so I can get rid of it once and for all.  Not being able to breathe freely makes me wheeze at the slightest exertion.  Fortunately, it does not take much energy to type or search the web.

Breathing: something we take for granted most of the time

My situation is trivial - I know I will get better in a few days.  I got thinking about you guys, your increased risk of bronchial and pulmonary infections that make breathing difficult at the same time you may also be trying to cope with CLL caused anemia (reduced red blood cell counts) that decrease oxygen carrying capacity of your blood.  I can only imagine how hard it must be for people with chronic asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis etc who have to struggle for each breath they take - and learn to live with this horror for the rest of their lives.

I wrote several years ago about Singulair and its potential usefulness in reducing pulmonary infections - hopefully by helping keep the airways free of excessive and overly thick mucus that cannot be dislodged by mere coughing.  I know cystic fibrosis kids with lungs choking with thick mucus often require daily special chest massages to keep the mucus from congealing into huge lumps, keeping the mess fluid enough that they can try to get rid of it by productive coughing.  Won’t it be nice if there was a mechanical way of loosening mucus in the lungs without these kids getting beaten black and blue in these “special massages”? Increased mucus production that builds up as stagnant pools of phlegm in the lungs and airways acts as a breeding ground for bacteria - which can lead to potentially dangerous infections such as pneumonia.

The mucosal system

True, the stuff you cough up when you are trying to clear your lungs looks gross in the bathroom sink. But the mucosal system is an essential part of the respiratory system.  Mucus protects the lungs by trapping foreign particles such as dust, pollutants, allergens and even infectious bacteria that enter it during normal breathing. It helps keep the lung tissue supple and moisturized - so that it can do the job of expanding and contracting properly with each breath you take. There are a lot more specialized functions of the mucus that we do not have to discuss here.

In healthy individuals the bronchial walls are covered with hair-like “cilia” that wave and wiggle in unison, moving the mucus up from the bottom of the trachea into the mouth where it can be spat out.  Patients suffering from chronic bronchitis or lung inflammation due to irritants such as tobacco smoke have more than necessary amount of mucus production. Airway inflammation coupled with excessive mucus production means air flow is reduced. If the body produces more mucus than the cilia can handle, thick gobs of the stuff builds up and pretty soon the cilia are held captive, unable to move.  When things are working right,  the body initiates vigorous coughing as a way of dislodging the mucus and breaking it up into more manageable size globs that the cilia can deal with.

The “Lung Flute”

Low and behold, someone has invented a simple mechanical device that may help the process of clearing excessive mucus in the lungs and airways.  The background of the invention is disarmingly simple.  It seems the cilia move at a particular frequency - 16 hertz (16 beats per second) - and if a similar frequency vibration is applied to the lungs and airways, it may give a helping hand and break up the mucus globs.  The cilia can then get back to work moving the stuff up where a good bit of vigorous coughing gets rid of the stuff once and for all. 

How to produce a humming vibration at the right pitch was not obvious but the solution that finally did the job was both simple and elegant.  The “lung flute” was born.  Blowing through the flute is thought to send the right frequency vibration through the lungs doing the necessary job of breaking up mucus balls into smaller sizes.

The “lung flute” is patented and can only be purchased with a doctor’s prescription.  It has been in use in Europe and Japan for a couple of years.  One of the uses is to help collect samples of phlegm from tuberculosis patients.  Some clinical trials in the USA have shown it is as effective as present day standard treatments for COPD.

Does it really work?

I do not know.  It sounds like a nifty idea, and at $40 dollars the gizmo is not going to bust your budget.  It also is a mechanical device and not yet another pill to pop with its own list of adverse effects.  The flute does not make music, so you don’t have to worry about not being musically talented.  If what it does is make it easier for you to have productive coughing so that you can more easily bring up the gunk blocking your lungs, I think the $40 is well spent.  Here is a popular science article on the device that describes how it is supposed to work.

I doubt I can get hold of the lung flute in time to help me kick this phlegm in my airways.  I am not worried, I will recover on my own pretty soon.  But if any of you guys out there are struggling with constant bronchial infections and having trouble breathing, you may want to check out this gizmo. The company website  has instructions on its use and how to go about buying it.  I think the need for getting a doctor’s prescription to buy it is just a way of justifying the price, giving the darned thing the glamour of being a medical instrument. If you do go to the trouble of getting hold of the lung flute, do be sure to write and tell the rest of us how it worked for you!