An extra build-up of mucus in your airways is likely to lead to a few respiratory problems or breathing troubles. Such problems are commonly referred as chest congestion. The build-up of mucus is often seen in the lower part of your airways – including the lungs, bronchioles, wind pipe (also called as trachea) and your larynx. You are likely to experience spells of coughing and nasal blockages. It may also lead to discomforts in the top part of your airways – comprising your throat and nasal sinus. These symptoms can vary based on the severity of this medical condition. Several other causes play a role in triggering the severity level. Treatment offered is influenced by the underlying cause and severity levels. It helps to know the possible causes, treatment options as well as what to take if you experience an episode of chest congestion.

Pathways of air are popularly referred as airways. The walls of these airways have mucus at an optimal level. Presence of mucus helps to keep your airways moist; this is required to avoid risks of dryness of your air passages. Key function of moist-mucus is to ensure that foreign particles such as microbial germs, dust particles, etc. do not gain entry into these pathways. Without the mucus lining, these foreign bodies may get direct access to reach your windpipe as well as lungs. This lining also needs to keep itself moist as dry mucus will fail to stop germs or microbes from gaining entry into your respiratory tract. This is truly a tightrope-walk. If mucus production exceeds from its optimal level or decreases from the needed level, it can lead to irritation to your airways and allow free access to foreign matter, respectively.

Development of congestion in your chest can also be due to a seasonal cold or flu. When an inflammation or an internal swelling develops, your body tends to make additional levels of mucus. It may be surprising to know that this can develop into a potentially fatal medical condition. This respiratory condition hence needs proper attention and needful care. If you decide to leave it untreated, a few types of congestion in the chest can lead to a near-fatal or – at times – can even result in fatal outcomes.

Common signs of chest congestion

Congestion can show up in the form of a few signs. The most common among its signs are respiratory problems such as unusual sounds while breathing, wheezing, faster rate of respiration, wet cough (clinically called as productive coughing), pain in your chest, persistent tiredness, spells of weakness, etc. In severe episodes of congestion, you may observe discoloration of your skin or development of a mild blue color. You may also witness headaches, nausea, vomiting sensation, fever, etc.

As cardiac arrests or other heart-related ailments such as a sudden heart attack may also show up similar signs, you may need to seek emergency care to rule out all such near-fatal conditions. Special and urgent care is hence needed if the signs show up all of a sudden and tend to get aggravated. There can be several reasons that can lead to congestion in your chest. It may also be due to an inflammation or a swelling of the internal membrane (pleural tissues) of the walls of your lungs. Membranes that cover your lungs naturally contain some traces of moisture in them. Such semi-humid conditions are required to create proper working conditions for your lungs. If these membranes get infected, they may produce additional amounts of moisture. This can lead to a build-up of fluids in your chest area.

Such infectious conditions are triggered either by a viral or bacterial attack. COVID-19 is a recently discovered viral strain capable of causing respiratory discomforts that can lead to fatal outcomes. A few years ago, the world witnessed another strain known as sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – which was another example of a deadly strain. Similarly, your airways may be prone to attacks by bacterial strands. These bacterial attacks require needful medical treatment and proper care in a clinical or healthcare setting. However, growth of fungus in your airways is very rare. It is likely to show up among people living with medical conditions such as HIV AIDS, etc.; especially, conditions which can compromise your immunity levels.

What to take for chest congestion?

Drugs and foods to be taken depend a lot on the causes behind chest congestion. In general, it is essential for you to take a lot of liquids, bedrest as well as an added intake of oxygen. In case of viral attacks, there is no clearly defined treatment accorded to such conditions. Bacterial infections are treated with needful antibiotics. If you have shorter spells of coughing, your doctor may advise you to take cough-suppressants. Nasal-inhalers are taken for respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). For acute cases of COPD, special pumps or nebulizers are used. If the condition turns extremely severe, your medication plan may include intake of steroids – especially, corticosteroids.


This drug is taken for treating signs triggered by chest congestion. This is an expectorant-drug; this essentially helps to thin down the mucus levels in your lungs. It helps loosen your mucus lining and thus makes it easy to remove excessive mucus. Opioid variants of this drug can work on your brain to decrease your coughing sensation. The most common side effects this drug may trigger include nausea, difficulties to pass stool (constipation), vomiting, drowsiness, etc. Severe reactions are inability to sleep (sleep-apnea or other sleep-related problems), mood swings or shifts including depression, arrhythmia or irregular rate of heartbeats. In very remote instances, people have experienced convulsions and muscular spasms. Upon experiencing any of these side effects, you are advised to seek medical help on an emergency basis.

You are strongly advised to tell your treating doctor if you are allergic to pain-relieving drugs. Also, if you have a clinical history comprising abdominal disorders – such as poor bowel movements, inflammation of pancreas, gallbladder related ailments, etc. – it is highly recommended to keep your doctor informed about them. Apart from these, prior medical conditions such as cardiac arrests, psychotic behavior, thyroid dysfunction (especially, hypothyroidism), etc. also need to be informed to your treating physician as well as pharmacist. This expectorant may interact with a few anti-addictive medications such as naltrexone, antiulcer drugs like cimetidine, etc. So, it is important to tell your pharmacist about the drugs you are currently consuming – especially, drugs such as sleep-boosting drugs, muscle-relaxing medications or a few types of anti-histamines.


This is a commonly administered drug to control coughing spells. Its use is prescribed to offer relief from spells of phlegm-free or dry coughing. It mainly suppresses the urges to cough. You may however need to remain conscious of the age of the patient; this drug is not regarded as suitable for children aged 7 years or less. An excessive use of this drug can result in severe damages to your brain. In some instances, over-dosage of this drug has led to convulsions as well as near-fatal outcomes.

The common side effects of dextromethorphan include – a feeling of being lightheaded, vomiting, nausea and a few abdominal discomforts. If you develop acute side effects such as faster breathing, palpitations, passing out, etc. you are advised to take needful medical help on an emergency basis. If you have a clinical history or prior instances of wheezing, bronchitis, asthmatic spells, etc. you need to tell about such prior episodes to your treating doctor. You are advised not to engage in activities that may require a high level of mental alertness. You are also advised to keep away from drinking alcohol. This drug can also react adversely with a few medications – such as, drugs like tranylcypromine or other monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibiting antidepressants. It is a good practice to keep your treating doctor as well as the pharmacist informed about your current medication as well as treatment plan.

Foods you can take for chest congestion

As part of popularly administered home remedies, you can consider taking some foods as possible cure for chest congestion.

Chicken soup –

This is a time-tested food to get relief from chest congestion as well as colds and flu. This soup can minimize internal swelling or inflammation. The vapors of chicken soup are believed to carry several therapeutic properties. It is also recommended to inhale its vapors so they directly can get into your bronchioles, sinuses and inner walls of your airways. If consumed at a tolerably warm temperature, the soup’s heat can thin-down the build-up of mucus as well as help eliminate it as you cough.

Spicy foods

Capsaicin is a substance present in spicy foods such as peppers. Medical studies indicate the ability of capsaicin to reduce congestion in airways. Capsaicin is also a powerful de-clogging food item – which is used effectively to treat congestions in bronchioles. Hence, foods made with chili or peppers can help eliminate internal blockages in your nasal path. It is also effective in working against congestion of sinuses; a condition that has the potential to turn into an acute spell of congestion.

Vitamin C and foods rich in it

This important vitamin is known to boost your immunity levels. Intake of foods such as oranges, guava, chili pepper, strawberries, lemons, etc. can decrease the intensity of your congestion. This essential vitamin is also widely known to treat several problems associated with your upper respiratory tract.

Clear fluids such as water, juice and broth

Intake of liquids such as water, broth or juices is known to thin-down the accumulation of mucus in your airways. Milk though is not considered in this list because it is consumed as a food item, and not as a fluid. You may also need to ensure that none of the drinks are caffeinated or carbonated. Hence, it is not a good practice to drink fluids such as alcohol, soda, beer, coffee or tea. These fluids may actually aggravate your current condition by increasing the levels of congestion.

You can also try a few popular home remedies to get relief from congestion in chest. These are –

Intake of apple cider vinegar – A teaspoon of this multi-purpose vinegar – sourced from apple juices – is diluted in a glass of warm water. It is widely believed to work as a cure for congestion.

Intake of honey with lukewarm-water – Honey is a naturally available suppressant of coughs. It is also richly endowed with antiviral as well as antibacterial capabilities. These powers help honey to dilute the mucus build-up and free your airways from congestion.

Gargling with salted, lukewarm-water – This is a very popular home remedy. It is known to reduce the thickness of mucus and can help eliminate extra mucus along with coughs.

Inhaling steam – When you breathe-in steam from a hot bath, it can add moisture to mucus and makes it easier to get expelled while you sneeze or cough.

Other approaches include making a compress (warm) with onions, using a vapor rub, etc. You can also take a warm shower or use a humidifier to prevent likely spells of congestion. In the same light, it is also recommended to take a shot of flu vaccine every year. Last but not the least, maintenance of a healthy pair of hands – by washing your hands frequently with soap or by using an alcohol-based sanitizing solution – is highly recommended. Hygienic hands can help avoid multiple risks associated with respiratory conditions such as congestion and other breathing difficulties.


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