Chest physiotherapy is widely prescribed to assist the clearance of airway secretions in people with cystic fibrosis. Oscillating devices generate intra- or extra-thoracic oscillations orally or external to the chest wall. Internally they create variable resistances within the airways, generating controlled oscillating positive pressure which mobilises mucus. Extra-thoracic oscillations are generated by forces outside the respiratory system, e.g. high frequency chest wall oscillation. This is an update of a previously published review.
The objectives of this review was to identify whether oscillatory devices, oral or chest wall, are effective for mucociliary clearance and whether they are equivalent or superior to other forms of airway clearance in the successful management of secretions in people with cystic fibrosis.
The searches identified 76 studies (302 references); 35 studies (total of 1138 participants) met the inclusion criteria. Studies varied in duration from up to one week to one year; 20 of the studies were cross-over in design. The studies also varied in type of intervention and the outcomes measured, data were not published in sufficient detail in most of these studies, so meta-analysis was limited. Few studies were considered to have a low risk of bias in any domain. It is not possible to blind participants and clinicians to physiotherapy interventions, but 11 studies did blind the outcome assessors.Forced expiratory volume in one second was the most frequently measured outcome. One long-term study (seven months) compared oscillatory devices with either conventional physiotherapy or breathing techniques and found statistically significant differences in some lung function parameters in favour of oscillating devices. One study identified an increase in frequency of exacerbations requiring antibiotics whilst using high frequency chest wall oscillation when compared to positive expiratory pressure. There were some small but significant changes in secondary outcome variables such as sputum volume or weight, but not wholly in favour of oscillating devices. Participant satisfaction was reported in 15 studies but this was not specifically in favour of an oscillating device, as some participants preferred breathing techniques or techniques used prior to the study interventions. The results for the remaining outcome measures were not examined or reported in sufficient detail to provide any high level evidence.
There was no clear evidence that oscillation was a more or less effective intervention overall than other forms of physiotherapy; furthermore there was no evidence that one device is superior to another.
The findings from one study showing an increase in frequency of exacerbations requiring antibiotics whilst using an oscillating device compared to positive expiratory pressure may have significant resource implications. More adequately-powered long-term randomised controlled trials are necessary and outcomes measured should include frequency of exacerbations, individual preference, adherence to therapy and general satisfaction with treatment. Increased adherence to therapy may then lead to improvements in other parameters, such as exercise tolerance and respiratory function. Additional evidence is needed to evaluate whether oscillating devices combined with other forms of airway clearance is efficacious in people with cystic fibrosis.There may also be a requirement to consider the cost implication of devices over other forms of equally advantageous airway clearance techniques. Using the GRADE method to assess the quality of the evidence, we judged this to be low or very low quality, which suggests that further research is very likely to have an impact on confidence in any estimate of effect generated by future interventions.