During normal respiration, air travels through the nose, down the trachea, and into smaller and smaller airways called bronchi. The lining of the respiratory tract is covered with mucus membranes which secrete a sticky fluid called mucus. Mucus cleans and protects the air passages by trapping bacteria and debris; mucus also keeps the air passages moist and lubricated.
People who have chronic respiratory ailments such as COPD or asthma can have an increased build up of mucus. When the mucus builds up, debris can no longer be removed causing difficulty breathing.
Mucolytic drugs help loosen and thin the mucus. Certain mucolytic agents contain a chemical that enhances the body's own production of an enzyme called glutathione. Glutathione helps breakdown thick, sticky mucus. Once the mucus is thinned, it is then easier to cough up or suction from the airway, improving the patient’s breathing. Mucolytic drugs can be taken with a nebulizer or face mask.