Mucus to Your Ears

June 13, 2011

At the recent Acoustical Society of America meeting in Seattle, independent inventor Sandy Hawkins presented “the purr-cough,” a new way to cough and dislodge mucus from the lungs. Science News characterizes the new cough as

a loud purring sound made with the tip of the tongue and the thumb pressed against the lips. It works because mucus, like ketchup, is a non-Newtonian fluid that becomes more liquid when a force is applied, such as the low-frequency vibrations of purring.

Hawkins, trained as an acoustics engineer, is previously known for inventing the FDA-approved “lung flute,” a plastic tube that, when blown, vibrates the chest and lungs with 16-hertz sound waves and helps expel mucus. Both the lung flute and the new cough were designed as tools to help collect mucus from patients suspected of carrying tuberculosis. Hawkins conceived the lung flute after learning that each year 127,000 Americans die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which results from a buildup of mucus and bacteria in the lungs and can lead to pneumonia. “It’s the number-four cause of death in the U.S.,” he told Popular Science. “I thought, ‘Yeah, I should do something about this.’ ”

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