Chest Congestion Overview
Have you ever had a stuffy nose? It happens when the tissues and blood vessels in and around your nose get swollen with fluid and mucus. That makes your nose feel clogged. The same thing happens in your chest when it fills with phlegm.
Some mucus in your airways is a good thing. You need it to protect and moisturize your tissues. But congestion means there’s too much mucus in your body. It builds up when you have a cold, irritated sinuses, or allergies, or when you breathe in smoke or pollutants.
Remedies for Clearing Mucus From Your Chest
Most of the time, you don’t need a prescription to take care of congestion. Here are a few things that can help you clear your chest:
- Humidifiers: These small appliances fill the air with water vapor and moisturize your nose and throat. That helps combat the dry air that could be causing the problem. Your body makes thicker mucus (and more of it) to soothe dryness. When humidifiers moisturize your nose and throat, your body won’t create as much mucus.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of water when you’re congested. It’ll help loosen the mucus. If you’re dehydrated, the mucus will become dehydrated too. That makes it thicker and harder to get out of your body. So avoid drinks like alcohol, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks.
- Exercise: Walking quickly, biking, or jogging can help loosen the buildup in your chest. That will make it easier to cough up. But, since congestion usually comes with sickness, your body also needs to rest to get better. So, don’t wear yourself out. If you have a condition that causes you to make more mucus when you exercise, such as exercise-induced asthma, you may want to try a different remedy or technique.
- Expectorants: These medications thin mucus, which can help you get it out of your system. Guaifenesin is the only over-the-counter expectorant. It has the same effect as drinking more liquids. You’ll find it in brands like Mucinex and Robitussin.
- Vapor rubs: These don’t cure the problem. But, they can help soothe the symptoms of congestion. Vicks VapoRub, perhaps the best known one, combines cough suppressants and pain relievers. The active ingredients are camphor, eucalyptus oil, and menthol. You rub it on your throat and chest to let the vapor reach your nose and mouth.
- Decongestants: These medications narrow your blood vessels. This helps open airways. When air can pass through more easily, mucus dries up. The two most common decongestant ingredients are pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed) and phenylephrine. You may want to take decongestants in the morning. They can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. They may also keep you awake.
- Essential oils: People use essential oils to help treat a range of illnesses, including sinus infections and chest colds. Limited research shows they may have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. So, if you breathe in the vapors of the oils, it may help drain your sinuses.
To make your own vapor rub, dilute an essential oil in water or another oil and put the mixture directly onto your skin. A few essential oils that may help congestion include:
Here’s how to mix it:
- Infants: 1 drop of essential oil with 4 teaspoons water or carrier oil
- Toddlers: 1 drop of essential oil with 2 teaspoons water or carrier oil
- Older children and adults: 1 drop of essential oil with 1 teaspoon of water or carrier oil.
Always test the mixture on a small part of your skin to check for irritation.
You can also add drops to a diffuser or steaming water and breathe in the scent. Follow the directions that come with the diffuser.
But first, and always, check with your doctor before using any essential oils. Some are not safe to use on or around children. Store all essential oils and preparations in childproof containers out of reach. Just a tiny amount of essential oil can be poisonous if you or a child swallows it. Researchers have also found that some essential oils can disrupt the hormones in the body. They don’t know how this might affect children or adults. Allergic reactions are also possible.
Special Coughing Techniques
There are a couple of airway clearance methods you can try to clear your chest. These are especially helpful for everyday buildup. Your doctor may recommend them and demonstrate them for you.
- Deep cough: To deep cough, you’ll take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then use your abs to push out the air. But try not to hack or clear your throat.
- Huff cough: If the deep cough doesn’t help, you may want to try a huff cough. Take a deep breath through your nose, then use your abs to breathe out of your mouth in three short huffs. This puts air behind the mucus to pull it away from the lung wall. It should be easier to cough up after a few repetitions.
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American Thoracic Society: “Treating Bronchiectasis.”
Baylor College of Medicine: “Tips help manage pesky sinus symptoms.”
CDC: “Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis).”
Cleveland Clinic: “Mucus and Phlegm: What to Do If You Have Too Much.”
Cough: “Efficacy of cineole in patients suffering from acute bronchitis: a placebo-controlled double-blind trial.”
Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: “Coughing and Huffing.”
Harvard Health Publishing: “What to do about sinusitis,” “No coughing matter.”
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy: “Antibacterial activity of essential oils and their major constituents against respiratory tract pathogens by gaseous contact.”
Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: “Frankincense (?? Ru Xiang; Boswellia Species): From the Selection of Traditional Applications to the Novel Phytotherapy for the Prevention and Treatment of Serious Diseases.”
Mayo Clinic: “Nasal congestion,” “COPD,” “Asthma,” “Cold remedies: What works, what doesn't, what can't hurt,” “Exercise-induced asthma,” “Vicks VapoRub: An effective nasal decongestant?”
Michigan Medicine: “Cystic Fibrosis: Helping Your Child Cough Up Mucus.”
National Jewish Health: “Techniques to Bring Up Mucus.”
Scientific Reports: “The antibacterial and antifungal activity of six essential oils and their cyto/genotoxicity to human HEL 12469 cells.”
Pediatrics: “Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, and No Treatment for Children With Nocturnal Cough and Cold Symptoms.”
U.S. National Library of Medicine: “LABEL: VICKS VAPORUB (camphor- synthetic, eucalyptus oil, and menthol ointment).”
UnityPoint Health: “Why Boogers are Gross but So Good for Your Health (Infographic).”
University of Minnesota: “How Do I Choose and Use Essential Oils?”