In this article:
Chest congestion, a feeling of tightness and heaviness in the chest, is often indicative of a respiratory infection. This difficulty in breathing occurs as a result of fluid accumulation in the lungs due to excessive mucus production.
It is vital to consult your doctor and take measures towards treating this condition to prevent a lack of oxygen in the body.
Home Remedies for Chest Congestion
You can try the following therapies at home to relieve your chest congestion faster.
1. Gargle with warm salt water
Gargling frequently with warm salt water is a traditional remedy for chest congestion. It helps reduce the viscosity of the mucus for easy expulsion and soothes the irritation in the throat.
A study showed that simply gargling with plain water may be beneficial in preventing upper respiratory tract infections in generally healthy people. (1)
How to use:
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to a glass of warm water and stir to dissolve.
- Gargle with this salt water solution for a few seconds.
- Repeat two to three times until the congestion clears.
2. Inhale steam
Steam inhalation moistens the mucous membranes and makes the phlegm watery, consequently making it easy to expel via coughing. (2)
How to perform:
- Pour hot water in a large bowl and add a few drops of essential oil, such as eucalyptus, tea tree, lavender, thyme, grapefruit, chamomile, or peppermint oil. Eucalyptus oil contains cineole, which is a mucoactive agent. (3)
- Place a towel over your head and lean over the bowl.
- Maintain a considerable distance between the hot water and your face to avoid any discomfort.
- Inhale the vapors deeply for as long as you feel comfortable.
- Repeat the steam inhalation two to three times a day until the congestion is relieved.
Note: Pregnant women, young children, hypertensive individuals, and people with cardiovascular disease are advised to avoid steam inhalation.
3. Consume a concoction of honey
Credited with potent antibacterial and antiviral properties, honey may help fight the underlying infection that is causing the buildup of mucus. Moreover, the humectant effect of honey can help water down the mucus trapped in your respiratory passages and can facilitate its expulsion. (4)
Studies also found honey to be effective as a cough suppressant. (5)(6) However, the use of honey for clearing chest congestion in children resulted in mild side effects such as nervousness, insomnia, and hyperactivity.
How to use:
It is generally considered safe to give 2.5 mL of honey to children aged 1 year or above just before bedtime. The recommended dose of raw honey can be consumed directly or dissolved in warm water as a tonic.
Note: Giving honey to children below the age of 1 year must be avoided. Honey may be contaminated with botulism spores, which can cause poisoning in infants.
Honey is a relatively mild and safe therapeutic agent that is unlikely to cause any adverse side effects if taken in the recommended amounts.
4. Apply a warm compress with onion (onion poultice)
When placed on the chest, the heat from the poultice seeps into the skin to break up the coagulated mucus. Also, onions are credited with expectorant properties that may further help in thinning out the mucus secretions.
Although there isn’t much scientific merit to this adjunct therapy, it enjoys considerable anecdotal popularity.
How to use:
- Peel and thinly slice two onions and steam the slices until they become tender.
- Use a clean kitchen towel to pat the steamed onions dry to remove the excess moisture.
- Wrap the steamed onions in a soft cotton cloth, gather its ends, and tie them to make a compress.
- Allow the onion poultice to cool down to a comfortably warm temperature and then place it on the patient’s chest.
- Let the warm poultice sit on the chest until it cools down completely. This gentle heat therapy may also be applied to the back to relieve cough.
- When the poultice has cooled down, the onion slices can be reused by steaming them again for a few minutes.
You may also add ginger or garlic to this mix for additional therapeutic effects. Alternatively, you can use a simple warm compress or a hot water bag.
Caution: To avoid the risk of getting burns from the poultice, do not use scalding-hot onions. Also, onion juice seeping from the cotton cloth directly on the skin may cause mild irritation in some people.
5. Apply a vapor rub
A vapor rub generally contains ingredients with decongestant and soothing effects, such as camphor, menthol, and eucalyptus oil. The mild cooling effect of the vapor rub comforts the irritated nasal lining and allows relatively unhindered breathing. (7)
Caution: Avoid getting vapor rub on the inside of your nose as it can have intoxicating effects.
6. Eat spicy foods
Some suspect that the heat generated in the body by spicy foods may help in diluting the thick and sticky mucus and, consequently, provide some degree of respiratory relief.
7. Have chicken soup
Chicken soup is another dietary recommendation for people struggling with a respiratory infection. This warm, wholesome food can help strengthen your body from within to fight the infection. It can also open up the jammed airway by diluting the trapped mucus.
8. Drink hot beverages
Hot beverages, such as herbal tea, green tea, ginger tea (10) without milk, or black coffee, can help thin out the consolidated mucus and may help alleviate chest congestion.
9. Drink apple cider vinegar
The use of apple cider vinegar to help relieve chest congestion by thinning the mucus is based on anecdotal evidence.
How to use:
Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of lukewarm water and consume it.
Caution: This remedy is not recommended for people with diabetes. Also, regular consumption of apple cider vinegar may have some side effects on your tooth enamel.
10. Take vitamin C
Vitamin C is effective in the treatment of flu, cold, and chest congestion.
How to use:
Include citrus fruits such as lemon in your diet. (11) You can also take vitamin C supplements upon consulting your doctor.
Preventive Self-Care Tips
The following tips can help prevent chest congestion from worsening:
1. Use a humidifier
Dry air can make chest congestion even more uncomfortable by coagulating or hardening the mucus, which can further block your breathing passages. A humidifier may specifically be helpful at nighttime when stuffy nose can cause sleep disturbances.
2. Take warm showers
Taking warm showers may help relieve chest congestion to a certain degree. The steam that you breathe while in the shower helps dissolve the consolidated mucus as it travels through the airway.
3. Maintain proper hand hygiene
Proper hand hygiene is one of the most fundamental steps in minimizing the risk of infection. You must frequently wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer to avoid picking up dirt and germs.
4. Annual flu vaccination is a must
Annual flu vaccination is a must to steer clear of the flu, which is a highly contagious respiratory infection and may cause chest congestion. Consult your doctor about getting a pneumonia shot as well, especially if you are 60 or above.
5. Avoid dairy products
Avoid dairy products, as they may cause thickening of the phlegm.
6. Elevate your head
Place an extra pillow under your head to keep it elevated while you sleep. Positioning your head this way may prevent the accumulation of mucus, reduce coughing, and facilitate easy breathing.
7. Drink adequate amounts of water
Drink adequate amounts of water to keep yourself hydrated. If possible, drink warm water as it may help soothe the throat and dissolve the mucus.
8. Include fruits and vegetables in your diet
Include vitamin-rich fruits and veggies in your diet. Fibrous fruits, such as apples and pears, may help in reducing phlegm.
9. Avoid carbonated beverages and oily/fatty foods
Avoid carbonated beverages and oily/fatty foods because they can worsen your symptoms.
10. Maintain a proper posture
Maintaining proper posture may help prevent mucus buildup and keep the airways clear.
11. Cough regularly
You must cough regularly to relieve chest congestion. You may have to induce a cough if it does not come naturally to push out the excess mucus that is blocking your respiratory passages.
The Importance of Coughing
Coughing is a reflex action that helps in clearing excess mucus from your respiratory tract. If not relieved for an extended period, chest congestion may cause breathing problems.
The following techniques may facilitate easier coughing:
1. Postural drainage
This is a positioning technique that uses gravity to move the mucus from the lungs up to the throat. There are a number of different positions you can choose from.
One of the easiest ones is performed by placing the feet of the patient higher than his/her head for 15–20 minutes.
2. Glossopharyngeal breathing
This method entails rapidly taking big gulps of air through your mouth until your chest becomes full of air. The air is forced into the lungs, which comes out strongly with the cough.
3. Chest physiotherapy (CPT)
This technique can be performed with the help of a doctor or caregiver. It aims to clear the congestion in the five lobes of the lungs through gravitational force.
This airway clearance therapy involves placing the patient’s body in different postural drainage positions while a respiratory therapist claps and/or vibrates the patient’s chest.
Most-Asked Questions About Chest Congestion
Why do you feel more congested in the morning?
A lot of people report that their productive cough tends to worsen in the morning. During the daytime, your coughing reflex is active, allowing you to regularly expectorate the phlegm accumulating in your airways.
However, your cough reflex is stifled during sleep. This causes the phlegm to build up inside your nasal passages, aggravating the symptoms of chest congestion in the morning.
Is it okay to exercise when you have chest congestion?
As the mucus builds up inside your respiratory passages, the space for airflow becomes increasingly constricted. The restricted airflow will inadvertently decrease the amount of oxygen in your blood. Hence, exercising when you have chest congestion may further increase your respiratory distress and cause complications.
Is phlegm a sign that your asthma is getting worse?
If you suffer from asthma, you may have a productive cough when you contract an infection.
Your nasal airways may become inflamed, leading to the development of other symptoms such as tightness or heaviness in the chest, coughing, labored breathing, and wheezing.
Your daily preventer inhaler may help manage your symptoms. However, if the need for a reliever inhaler becomes frequent, such as more than three times a week, consult your physician.
Are chest congestion and wheezing the same?
Chest congestion is one of the most typical symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, such as influenza, common cold, and bronchitis. These infections trigger an overproduction of mucus in the respiratory passages, which eventually settles down in the chest and causes chest congestion.
Due to the congestion, you may have to strain to inhale and exhale. In such cases, the act of breathing may produce a squeaky, whistling sound that is known as wheezing.
Are chest congestion and nasal congestion the same?
Nasal congestion is characterized by a stuffy nose caused by the inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes, which leads to the production of thick, sticky mucus.
On the other hand, chest congestion is characterized by heaviness in the chest, sore throat, and the production of phlegm. It occurs when there is an overproduction of mucus in your respiratory airways, which ends up restricting your airflow.
Chest congestion may cause discomfort and difficulty breathing. Mild chest congestion may be treated with over-the-counter medications.
Along with medication, some home remedies may help provide fast relief by loosening the mucus and clearing the airways. However, if the chest congestion becomes recurrent, medical advice is required to determine the cause.