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Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder which significantly reduces the lungs’ ability to vacate mucus. The condition leads to chronic lung infections and tissue damage, which eventually prove fatal. Advancements in airway clearing techniques (ACTs) along with new medications have improved mucus-clearing capabilities among cystic fibrosis sufferers, however, leading to an increased average lifespan for those affected by the disease. The cystic fibrosis vest has become a popular ACT. When worn by cystic fibrosis sufferers each day, this electrically powered, vibrating garment can encourage the movement of mucus out of the lungs, thus diminishing infection and lung damage.
Normally, mucus plays the important role of trapping and evacuating bacteria and other foreign materials from the lungs. In cystic fibrosis sufferers, however, the mucus becomes overly thick, and cannot be easily transported out of the airways. The presence of this thick, excessive mucus encourages infection, and infection in turn leads to the production of additional mucus. As a result, those with cystic fibrosis face chronic infections, breathing difficulties, and tissue damage, which eventually prove fatal.
An airway clearing technique (ACT) is an exercise which encourages the movement of mucus out of a cystic fibrosis sufferer’s lungs. Some ACTs, such as tapping the back or deliberate coughing, are easy to perform and require no special equipment. Others, such as the cystic fibrosis vest, are more “high-tech.”
The cystic fibrosis vest is a soft, sleeveless garment which is inlaid with air pockets and connected to an electricity supply. It is worn for one or more daily sessions of approximately 20 to 40 minutes. While in use, the vest inflates and deflates very quickly, causing the wearer’s chest to vibrate. These vibrations can break up mucus deposits and move the deposits into the main airways, from where they can be coughed or huffed out of the body.
Many cystic fibrosis vest users find that the device has a number of benefits. Especially when used in combination with airway-opening medications, it can greatly improve mucus movement. In addition, the vest is fairly portable, and can be used in the home while performing everyday activities, such as watching television.
Perhaps the primary disadvantage of the cystic fibrosis vest is its high cost. In the US, for instance, one of these vests can be priced at $15,000 US Dollars (USD) or even more. Depending on the terms of one’s health insurance policy, however, this cost may be partially or fully covered.
I had a friend in high school who had cystic fibrosis. I always felt bad because she was not able to do a lot of the fun activities we enjoyed as kids.
I remember part of her cystic fibrosis treatment was using a vest like this to help her with her lungs. She always felt better after a treatment, and usually had one a few times a week. She said it was not painful, and could watch TV or read while having her treatment, but I am sure she would have rather been outside playing.
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