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Remedies for Chest Congestion

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 02, 2020

If you’ve ever been diagnosed with the common cold or bronchitis, you’ve likely experienced chest congestion. Chest congestion is the result of inflamed air passages, or bronchi, in the lungs. A chest cold results from the same virus as the common cold and usually presents as a runny nose, sinus infection, or sore throat before settling into your lungs.

When the bronchi in your lungs are exposed to a virus, they swell and fill with a thick fluid called mucus. This excess fluid constricts the airflow, making it difficult to breathe. 

Symptoms of chest congestion include:

  • Hacking cough with clear, green, or dark yellow mucus
  • Chest tightness 
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches and chills
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing 

The majority of these symptoms often fade in a few days, but a cough can last for weeks as your bronchial tubes heal. If you have a cough that lasts longer than 14 days, you should see your doctor. This symptom could be a sign of another illness that needs medical attention, such as pneumonia.

Remedies and Treatments for Chest Congestion

The common cold and chest congestion are the result of a virus. The only cure for this kind of virus involves resting and waiting for the virus to clear. Antibiotics are only helpful in treating diseases like pneumonia and whooping cough. However, some home remedies and treatments can soothe your aching chest and relieve your symptoms.

Doctors suggest these home remedies for chest congestion:

  • Drink plenty of clear fluids to keep your body hydrated and thin the mucus inside your throat and lungs.
  • Place a cool-mist vaporizer or humidifier in the room to soothe any lung irritation.
  • Sleep with your head propped up on several pillows to make breathing easier and prevent mucus from accumulating in your chest overnight.
  • Take a hot shower and breathe in the steam to ease congestion.
  • Try an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease body aches and reduce fever.
  • Use saline drops or nasal spray to alleviate congestion.
  • Use lozenges to keep your throat moist. 
  • Use bronchodilators, which relax the muscles in your lungs and widen your bronchi to make breathing easier. Bronchodilators are often used to treat long-term conditions where your airways become inflamed and narrow, such as asthma.

Symptoms usually start to go away within seven days to two weeks if you don’t have an underlying condition like chronic pulmonary disease. Medicines like decongestants may also loosen mucus and ease other symptoms. 

When to See a Doctor

In some cases, at-home remedies might not do the trick. If you aren’t feeling better after a few days, have a fever that isn’t going away, are wheezing, or can’t seem to shake the infection, make an appointment with your doctor. Chest congestion may indicate a condition more serious than the common cold or bronchitis.

Remedies for Children

Children will benefit from many of the same home remedies for chest congestion, such as resting, drinking clear fluids, and breathing in cool air from vaporizers or humidifiers. Some chest cold remedies in children should be treated with caution.

Consider these home remedies for children with chest congestion:

  • Some over-the-counter pain medications with ibuprofen or acetaminophen are designed for kids. Follow the label’s instructions, and check the active ingredients to ensure your child isn’t taking more than the recommended amount. You should also discuss the dosage with your child’s doctor.
  • Cough syrup may help ease chest congestion symptoms in children. Cough syrup is available at drug stores or by prescription. Like pain relievers, read the label to ensure your child doesn’t take too much at one time.
  • Lozenges may be given to children older than four years, but don’t give them to children younger than four years.
  • If your child is older than one year, give them a teaspoon of honey or mix the same amount in a cup with warm water. Honey helps thin mucus and loosen a cough. Some research suggests that honey is more effective at reducing a severe cough than store-bought cough syrup. However, do not give honey to infants younger than one year because it can lead to a sickness known as infant botulism.
  • Try squeezing saline drops in your child’s nose to loosen mucus, then insert a rubber bulb syringe to gently suction the nostrils and remove excess mucus.

The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recommend over-the-counter cold medications for children younger than four years. You should also avoid giving children aspirin, which can cause a rare but life-threatening condition called Reye’s Syndrome.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Acute Bronchitis.” 

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Coughs and Colds: Medicines or Home Remedies?”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis).” 

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Bronchitis.” 

Mayo Clinic: “Common Cold.” 

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