The Pied Piper of Mucus
The plastic tube Sandy Hawkins hands me looks more like a toy horn than a medical device. Blowing into it, he tells me, will do wonders for my chest cold. I glance at the dozen or so people enjoying their mid-afternoon Starbucks and give it a few skeptical puffs.
The idea for the horn came one night in 1985. Hawkins, an acoustics engineer, and his colleagues began brainstorming how they could use sound to mess with various bodily functions. They joked about what frequency a toilet would need to vibrate at to force an uncontrollable bowel movement and, slightly more seriously, a way to dislodge goo in sick people's lungs. Months later, Hawkins was reminded of that discussion when he learned that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of lung diseases that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, makes breathing tough for 10 million people, and causes 127,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. "It's the number-four cause of death in the U.S.," he says. "I thought, 'Yeah, I should do something about this.' "
In healthy lungs, hairlike cilia on the bronchial walls wiggle in unison to ferry mucus up the trachea and into the mouth, where it can be swallowed or spit out. Patients with COPD, however, secrete more mucus than the cilia can remove, and thick gobs of the stuff build up in the lungs, making them a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to pneumonia. Vigorous coughing can help dislodge it, but many sufferers require drugs to open their airways; some need help from oxygen tanks. Annually, the combined cost of treatment totals upward of $27 billion.
Hawkins began building an electronic sound machine that would produce waves of 16 hertz—the same frequency at which the cilia move—to help break up the mucus. Generating a hum of such a low frequency normally requires van-size subwoofers, and so he spent 15 years honing and shrinking the speakers. Then one day as he was testing a mouthpiece filter for his machine, he noticed that blowing through it sent a slight vibration into his chest. Within five seconds, he sketched out the Lung Flute to amplify the effect. Blowing into the tube flaps a reed-thin sheet of plastic, which vibrates the chest and shakes the mucus until it's thin and mobile enough for the cilia to usher it up your throat. "I felt so stupid because the answer was so simple," Hawkins says.
Today, doctors in Japan use the $40 Lung Flute as a tool to collect sputum from patients suspected of carrying tuberculosis, and in Europe and Canada it's used to help test phlegm for lung cancer. Clinical trials in the U.S. have shown that it is at least as effective as current COPD treatments. At press time, Hawkins expected the device to receive FDA approval any day, and says the reusable device could also provide home relief for patients with cystic fibrosis, influenza and asthma.
As Hawkins tells me all this, I notice that my cough has become more productive, and although he deserves my congratulations, I can't stick around to chat. Instead, I head outside and march to a storm drain to resolve the situation. —Corey Binns
(Photo: Charles Eshelman)
How can I buy this item, anybody know?
I just read that it has passed FDA 501(k) for use in laboratory analysis and pathological examination. There is not info about it being available to the regular consumer yet, but it does state when it is available, it will require a prescription from a doctor.
It will require a prescription from a doctor? How much does the government have to do to get an outcry from the public. If the banjo is found to help arthritis will we need a prescription for those it helps to get one?
Wow this thing seems really neat , great invention . When I read that you would need a prescription to get one I thought , huh , why ? Tis doesnt seem to make sense to me seeing how it just a mechanical device that appears to be harmless . You dont need a prescription for a steamer thing you can buy for bronchitis .
But after thinking about it , they can do what they want on this one , my guess is it wont be cheap , I'll just let my medical cover it
I say the future of healthcare is too make everything we can cheaper and easier to do from home. If we could develop simple inexpensive systems to test for disease and ailments then we could skip doctor checkups and only go in once we've found something wrong. That would clear out a lot of space and time.
Make an I dunno.... compact micro spectrometer that can be updated online for any new ailments that checks blood, saliva, urine or whatever... I mean you can generally tell when you have a broken bone or something but having a home diagnostics system that could also tell you the basic treatments for a disease could save lots of money across the board.... insurance would be cheaper... doctors could be more specialized... this is probably the solution to all our healthcare woes...
Just thinking... not really related to lung flute....
It's apparently cleared for home use in Canada and the European community. My feeling is that due to the litigious nature of the US and to be able to legally state the claim about it's intended use, Medical Acoustics had to get the FDA approval and have it delivered by prescription only.
It's a bummer though. I thought it would be good for even more minor ailments such as congestion due to colds and allergies.
If i could score a schematic I would print one out to try.
Um, you could download the patent with the diagrams...
"Device and method for inducing sputum"
US Patent 6702769
Where can one procure it and is it re-usable ?
It could probably have been marketed by 'As Seen on TV' with no problem. But then, no one would have believed them.
However, if they want to sell it as a serious medical device, it has to go through FDA requirements. The FDA reviews the submission of test data to ensure that the devices acually work.
They also inspect the manufacturer to ensure that they're making good product.
As for the prescription status, the FDA is supposed to move drugs off of this status whenever possible. I would think that they have the same charter for devices.
The solution is simple. Make a one note musical instrument with the same basic design. Then cover the hole with your finger to get the same vibrations as the lung flute. Anyone can design and make one and the FDA would not be able to do a thing about it. The FDA is way out of bounds on this device. Will we soon need a Rx to play a saxophone, harmonica, flute? They all vibrate? Stupid people. A simple device that can relieve a lot of suffering being held-up by a bunch a bureaucrats.
Hey, I'm looking for a partner for a business that buys gold at 52% and sell it at full-price. Interested. I need around $50,000
Contact me at email@example.com and I will send you an executive business plan.
Or call 801-687-4515
I think this would be great for people with Cystic fibrosis
I hope that someone is testing this somewhere.
Before I saw the video of the flute being used (below), I was under the mistaken impression that this device generated some kind of loud noise, which it does not-- its only resemblance to a real flute is its shape. If it did generate loud noises, I could imagine several reasons you might want to control it with prescriptions-- but this thing is hardly audible! It makes me angry that we have more bureaucratic nonsense preventing this device from being used on a broad basis! It would not surprise me at all if this flute started being bootlegged like CDs, name-brand watches, and sneakers.
KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Thank you for doing exactly that, Mr. Hawkins, even if the medical establishment wants to muck it up for those of us that might actually need it.
16 Hz is below the audible range except for the youngest and most sensitive ears. Actually, this frequency is also in the range (<20Hz) being used to stimulate bone growth, etc., for osteo patients and astronauts. Very little volume/power is required.
If you can get speakers to produce that specific sound, sit in front of one with your spittoon ready. :)
Or, for that matter, if you can overlay two sounds in the audible range (easier for ordinary speakers to produce) which are 16Hz apart, the "beat frequency" should work just the same. E.g., 500Hz and 516Hz.
I registered for an account just to comment on this. I would pay good money for this device for home use. As a life long asthma sufferer -- though not somebody where it is severe enough to require a nebulizer -- I've always wanted something that could do this. I also suffer from chronic pneumonia, well, chronic in that just about every time I get sick, I get pneumonia and it wipes me out. I'm otherwise very healthy and exercise regularly, but I'm just so freaking sick of getting pneumonia and other lung/chest conditions, I'd kill for something like this.
This is for Sandy if indeed he reads this type of feed back and hasn't already thought of the idea.
The biggest problem most industrialized citizens face is "not enough sleep". This is not for the sleepers but their spouses. Snoring is a huge problem that has wide ranging effects.
Can acoustic engineering solve the problem. The noise generated from the relaxed throat tissues while sleeping should be able to be counter acted by acoustics such that the noise is eliminated from dis-harmony (breaking up of the vibrations to cause no sound at all).
two things screw up the pulmonary system
1- upper chest breathing,wch is v.inefficient for O2 uptake&puts stress on the heart as well as the intercostal muscles.
FIX- learn&practice abdominal/diaphragmic breathing
2- eliminate all dairy
video.google.com -Dr.McDougall's 'Marketing Milk and Disease'
suffered for decades of panic&pain due to lung problems wch proper breath technique& diet have eliminated
Another way to get the phlem flowing is to do a drum roll with your hands on your chest. Or have someone perform this on your back. 16 cycles per second or there abouts will do. I just tried it and it works wonders. Move hands around the chest or back in a rotating motion while performing the roll. Obviously you can very the intensity to suit your needs.
I've been having flu symptoms and not coughing or producing phlem. Now the phlem is loosening for me. Just saying this is a quick alternative therapy that produces similar results to the flute. This may not be suitable if you are in pain. It will give immediate results. I experienced a tingling sensation immediately and phlem production within minutes. WOW.
Simple, innovative, amazing! Kudos,Sandy Hawkins you are a life-saver and many people can now BREATHE a sigh of relief. Thanks for a long-awaited solution to a common suffering!
THE WEBSITE TO PURCHASE THIS PRODUCT FOR $40
I have read the article and sent to my Pulmonologist. He has issued me a prescription. But, the website keeps stating they are awaiting FDA approval. I wrote a letter to the company and after a few days they responded, to my wrong name, and just reiterated thier website statements. I have gone to the FDA site and find it to be mostly disfunctional. A search under Medical Devices only brings up a reference about a June 22, 2006 pdf file that appears to give a Section 510(k) approval, K060439, whatever that is. I have just written a letter to the FDA admonishing them on their website and asking why the product requires FDA approval since it is an external device much the same as a hearing aid or eyeglasses. I also asked that they advise at their earliest convenience as I need the product to facilitate the expulsion of sputum from my lungs.
Knowing the government this may be a futile effort but I assure you they haven't heard the last from me. I have been known to be a very prolific letter writer.
Does anyone know if the lung flute also helps with tar and resin build up due to cigarette and other smoking activities
This is now for sale through medicalacoustics.com for $45 but only with a prescription
This is a great blog that helping to educate those of us who have problems with our lungs. Thanks, and keep up the good work, Sandy! Also, keep an eye out for my new Radon Gas blog: www.MitigationSystem.com - As I mentioned before, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Over 8 Million U.S. homes have dangerous levels of radon gas (radon level of 4.0 or higher is dangerous according to EPA.) Learn more about radon testing and radon remediation at www.RadonMitigation.us or wait for my new post about radon abatement next week. Thanks for all of your help in this battle against radon and cancer.
Now the lung flute is an invention. Using science to help patients with cystic fibrosis, influenza and asthma, and without drugs that have harmful side effects.
I wonder if a similar technology could be used for thyroid issues? I've often read that small, but intense vibrations can help an under-active thyroid become more productive.
At any rate, bravo!
What's the difference between blowing through this and blowing a tenor sax?
Some of you technical types could probably create an app for the I-Phone that would make the vibrator signal at 16 Hz, or the speakers produce a drone at 16 Hz. People would wander around with the buds clutched to their chest instead of stuck in their ears. The world would be an healthier place but the gutters would flow with phlegm. Go Viral, Go Viral.
dar said on 11/20/09 at 12:12 am:
two things screw up the pulmonary system
1- upper chest breathing,wch is v.inefficient for O2
uptake&puts stress on the heart as well as the intercostal
FIX- learn&practice abdominal/diaphragmic breathing
(the second thing isn't relevant to my comment).
I've never understood this. It's often said that upper-chest breathing is worse than abdominal or diaphragmic breathing, and that we should learn the latter. But upper-chest breathing is what babies naturally do, isn't it, and what everyone then continues to do unless taught otherwise. Surely, if upper-chest breathing really were so bad, we would have evolved not to do it.