9 Medical Devices for Managing COPD

by Kathi MacNaughton Health Professional

Modern technology can give traditional medicine a boost, especially when it comes to COPD. Airway clearing devices can vibrate and loosen mucus, while other devices can help with managing and monitoring lung function. If your doctor recommends using one of these devices, be sure to get a respiratory therapist to show you and/or your caregiver how to use it effectively.

Positive expiratory pressure therapy (PEP)

This type of device requires you to inhale through a mask or mouthpiece and then exhale against a one-way valve that provides some level of resistance. This creates a pressure in your airways that helps them to open and move the mucus higher, where it can be coughed out. The level of resistance is set by your health care team. AeroPEP®, PariPEP® and AstraPEP® are some examples.

High-frequency chest wall oscillator (HFCWO)

This device uses an inflatable vest that vibrates and massages the chest wall, similarly to chest percussion. It also helps to loosen your mucus so that you can cough it up. Current brands of HFCWO devices include the Medpulse® Respiratory Vest System and the Vest™Airway Clearance System.

Combination devices

These airway clearing devices combine PEP therapy with a chest wall oscillator. The most common brands are the Flutter™ and the Acapella™. You use the Flutter while standing or sitting and the Acapella while lying down.

Acoustic impedance device

This type of handheld device is a similar concept to the others, but it uses the vibration of low-frequency sound waves to get the mucus moving up out of your lower airways. The Lung Flute® is the most common brand in this category.

Pulse oximeter

A pulse oximeter is a small device, usually made of plastic, which clamps comfortably on to a fingertip. It has an easily readable display window on the front. Within seconds, your pulse and oxygen-saturation level are measured and posted in this window.


Spirometers measure airflow and how well lungs are working. When you breathe into this device, it measures the amount of air you are breathing in and out, as well as how fast you are able to inhale and exhale. Spirometers are useful in tracking how your lungs work over time and in picking up deterioration and progression of your illness.

Oxygen concentrators

Oxygen concentrators are electronic machines that extract pure oxygen from room air and transport it to your lungs via tubing and either a nasal cannula or face mask. Because oxygen, especially at higher flow rates, is extremely drying, the tubing is usually directed through a water bottle.


Nebulizers are machines that convert liquid medicine in suspension into aerosol droplets that can be inhaled into the lungs. They use compressed air, ultrasonic power or even oxygen to do this.

Liquid oxygen reservoirs

These are the big silver tanks that hold oxygen and are usually used when people first go on oxygen. They also have water bottles to humidify the oxygen and tubing that carries the gas to your airways.

Kathi  MacNaughton
Meet Our Writer
Kathi MacNaughton

Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she's been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.