How to Deal With Chest Congestion?
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Chest Congestion - Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

Published on Sep 19, 2022 and last reviewed on Aug 11, 2023   -  5 min read


Chest congestion refers to the accumulation of mucus in the lungs. This article demonstrates an overview, symptoms, and management of chest congestion.

What Is Chest Congestion?

Chest congestion is a symptom of respiratory infection like cold or more severe infections. It results from inflamed air passages, or bronchi, in the lungs. When exposed to a virus, the bronchi get inflamed, producing excess mucus.

What Are the Causes of Chest Congestion?

Chest Congestion in Babies:

Congestion that develops in a baby’s chest has more severe causes, such as:

Chest Congestion in Adults:

In adults, the two most common causes of chest congestion are irritants in the air and the bacteria and viruses responsible for upper respiratory tract infections.

  • Air Pollutants: When inhaled just by taking a breath, certain particles in the air get trapped in the mucus membrane of the nose and airways. These particles, such as dust and allergens, are usually harmless. However, tiny hair-like structures called cilia transport these particles along with the mucus towards the throat and to the lungs. The irritation caused by these particles results in the overproduction of mucus, making the chest feel congested.

  • Bacteria and Viruses: An inhaled virus or bacteria can cause an infection, resulting in chest congestion. Like allergens, bacteria and viruses also work in the same way by entering the body and being transported by cilia, but these microorganisms cause inflammation. As a result, the body produces more mucus in the airways to remove them. But the body may not be able to get rid of this excessive, thicker mucus in the usual ways, and the mucus gets stuck inside the lungs resulting in a congested chest.

What Are the Symptoms of Chest Congestion?

The symptoms of chest congestion are:

  • Labored breathing.

  • Coughing.

  • Difficulty in feeding children.

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Fever.

  • Headache.

  • Body ache.

  • Chills.

  • Sore throat.

  • Chest tightness.

  • Cough with clear, green, or dark yellow mucus. Excess phlegm and mucus production helps get rid of the bacteria or virus in the lungs. The coughed-up phlegm is called sputum and varies in color from clear to brown to green.

  • The phlegm build-up in the lungs makes the air difficult to pass through. It results in shortness of breath from chest congestion. It can be a sign of bronchitis.

  • Coughs that expel sputum are called productive coughs. Excess phlegm in the chest triggers the cough reflex.

What Is Phlegm?

Phlegm is a different form of mucus formed in the lower respiratory airways (throat and lungs) in response to inflammation. The phlegm is coughed up from the respiratory tract. Phlegm is also produced naturally from the body and mainly comprises water, proteins, and inorganic salts. The phlegm is thicker than the mucus. Therefore, it is noticeable only when infected with a cold or some underlying medical issue. When phlegm is coughed up, it is called sputum.

What Is Mucus?

The mucus is the gelatinous, watery fluid produced by mucous membranes in the body. The mucus is made up of water, inorganic salts, and proteins. Usually, the human body has 1.5 liters of mucus per day. Sputum can be clear, with varying yellow, green, brown, or red shades. When infected with a cold or flu, the body sends white blood cells (neutrophils) to repair the damage. These cells contain green enzymes that affect the mucus color—the more white blood cells, the greener the sputum.

What Are the Underlying Medical Conditions to Cause Chest Congestion?

Following are the underlying medical conditions that lead to chest congestion:

  • Acute Bronchitis: Acute bronchitis is a contagious viral infection that causes inflammation of bronchial tubules. When these tubes get infected, they swell and form thick mucus inside the airways, narrowing and making it harder to breathe. One of the most common symptoms of acute bronchitis includes chest congestion or tightness. A cough can last for several weeks or more.

  • Pneumonia: It is a contagious infection with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. When there is an infection in the lungs, airways get inflamed (swell), and air sacs in the lungs fill up with mucus and other fluids resulting in chest congestion and other associated symptoms.

  • Common Cold: Infection with a cold or flu virus is among the most common causes of chest congestion. The congestion happens when the disease progresses from the nasal passage and throat to the lower respiratory tract.

  • Coronavirus Disease: COVID -19 virus affects different people in different ways. The symptoms may vary from mild to moderate to severe. One of the serious symptoms includes chest congestion and difficulty in breathing, leading to life-threatening conditions.

How to Get Rid of Chest Congestion?

There are a few effective remedies to clear chest congestion:

1. Steam: Steam helps moisten the airways, thereby loosening dried-up phlegm and mucus, making it easier to cough up. Use a humidifier or make a steam room with a bowl of hot water and a towel covering up the head.

2. Stay Hydrated: Water is considered a natural chest congestion reliever. Keeping hydrated helps to thin thick mucus and phlegm in the lungs and helps to expel it out quickly. Warm liquids are more known to clear out the mucus in the nose and chest. So to relieve this congestion, warm liquid intake such as green tea, warm water, chicken soup, and warm apple juice can do wonders in treating chest congestion. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated sodas as they have a dehydrating effect.

3. Use Humidifier: Another best way to treat chest congestion is to get a humidifier. It makes it easier to cough up the mucus. Humidifiers add moisture to the air and help loosen the mucus that is weighing down the chest.

4. Honey: Honey serves as the most opted home remedy. It can soothe the irritated throat, and its sticky nature helps in expelling mucus from the membranes.

5. Medications:

  • Expectorants: Expectorants are most effective in removing phlegm from the lungs and throat. They thin out mucus and phlegm, making it easier to expel. The main ingredient, Guaifenesin, helps get rid of mucus and phlegm completely.

  • Decongestants: Decongestants help clear the nasal pathways, clear congestion, and reduce mucus production. These are available in sprays, pills, and syrups.


A stepwise approach is recommended to manage and treat congestion, consisting of proper diagnosis of an underlying cause, patient education and monitoring, avoidance of environmental triggers wherever possible, and pharmacotherapy. In addition, patient counseling and lifestyle modifications are necessary for a better prognosis.

Last reviewed at:
11 Aug 2023  -  5 min read




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