Airway clearance techniques for cystic fibrosis: An overview of Cochrane systematic reviews

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Background: Cystic fibrosis is a life-limiting genetic condition in which thick mucus builds up in the lungs, leading to infections, inflammation, and eventually, deterioration in lung function. To clear their lungs of mucus, people with cystic fibrosis perform airway clearance techniques daily. There are various airway clearance techniques, which differ in terms of the need for assistance or equipment, and cost. Objectives: To summarise the evidence from Cochrane Reviews on the effectiveness and safety of various airway clearance techniques in people with cystic fibrosis. Methods: For this overview, we included Cochrane Reviews of randomised or quasi-randomised controlled trials (including cross-over trials) that evaluated an airway clearance technique (conventional chest physiotherapy, positive expiratory pressure (PEP) therapy, high-pressure PEP therapy, active cycle of breathing techniques, autogenic drainage, airway oscillating devices, external high frequency chest compression devices and exercise) in people with cystic fibrosis. We searched the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on 29 November 2018. Two review authors independently evaluated reviews for eligibility. One review author extracted data from included reviews and a second author checked the data for accuracy. Two review authors independently graded the quality of reviews using the ROBIS tool. We used the GRADE approach for assessing the overall strength of the evidence for each primary outcome (forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV 1 ), individual preference and quality of life). Main results: We included six Cochrane Reviews, one of which compared any type of chest physiotherapy with no chest physiotherapy or coughing alone and the remaining five reviews included head-to-head comparisons of different airway clearance techniques. All the reviews were considered to have a low risk of bias. However, the individual trials included in the reviews often did not report sufficient information to adequately assess risk of bias. Many trials did not sufficiently report on outcome measures and had a high risk of reporting bias. We are unable to draw definitive conclusions for comparisons of airway clearance techniques in terms of FEV 1 , except for reporting no difference between PEP therapy and oscillating devices after six months of treatment, mean difference -1.43% predicted (95% confidence interval -5.72 to 2.87); the quality of the body of evidence was graded as moderate. The quality of the body of evidence comparing different airway clearance techniques for other outcomes was either low or very low. Authors' conclusions: There is little evidence to support the use of one airway clearance technique over another. People with cystic fibrosis should choose the airway clearance technique that best meets their needs, after considering comfort, convenience, flexibility, practicality, cost, or some other factor. More long-term, high-quality randomised controlled trials comparing airway clearance techniques among people with cystic fibrosis are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberCD011231
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 24 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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