To ease chest congestion, you can try home remedies, including drinking liquids, using a humidifier, and taking over-the-counter decongestants. In some cases, you may need a prescription for stronger medication.

If you’re dealing with a persistent cough, you likely have a buildup of mucus in your chest.

Although this isn’t a life threatening condition, it can affect your quality of life. If left untreated, it can lead to additional complications.

Before you head to the doctor, there are a few things you can do to help clear up your symptoms at home.

Keep reading to learn more about the different treatment options available.

For many people, home remedies are an effective first-line treatment. Try these options:

1. Drink liquids

Drink lots of fluids. It sounds cliché, but you likely hear this advice often because it works.

Liquids help thin out mucus. Warm liquids can help clear out mucus in the chest and nose. This can relieve congestion, giving you a small respite from your symptoms.

2. Gargle with salt water

Research shows that gargling warm salt water can help relieve the symptoms of a cold, which can include excess mucus.

Try to mix a cup of warm, filtered, or bottled water with half to three-quarters teaspoon (tsp) of salt. Take a sip and tilt your head slightly back and gargle for 30-60 seconds. Alternatively, use saline solution in spray or neti pot form.

3. Elevate your head

Try to keep your head upright, especially at night. This will help the mucus drain out faster. You can do this by propping up a few pillows under your head.

4. Use a humidifier

Steam can also help loosen mucus and clear up congestion. You can pick up a humidifier at your local drugstore. You may find it beneficial to use it at night near your bed. This can help ease congestion while you’re sleeping.

Depending on your needs, you can make your own steam room or humidifier at home in the following ways:

  • Breath in steam in the shower
  • Lean over a bowl of hot water, placing a hand towel over your head to help trap the steam around your face.

5. Take honey

Honey has been used as a natural remedy throughout history and is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. There is some evidence it may be particularly helpful in relieving nighttime coughs in children.

One 2018 meta-analysis of six randomized studies also found evidence to suggest that honey may be more effective than no treatment, a placebo, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

However, it wasn’t necessarily more effective than the common cough suppressant Dextromethorphan (Mucinex, Robitussin, and others).

6. Use essential oils

Certain essential oils may help loosen mucus in the chest. A 2020 meta-analysis of seven studies suggest essential oils may help relieve some symptoms of respiratory illnesses, though the results of the studies were mixed.

Peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil are also used as natural decongestants.

You can make use of essential oil in one of two ways:

  • Diffuse it: Pick up a diffuser from your local drugstore, and add a couple of drops of the oil to a hot bath to release the scent into the air.
  • Breathe it in: Fill a bowl with hot water and a few drops of essential oil. Lean over the bowl and cover your head with a hand towel to help trap the steam. Breathe in the steam for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Apply topically: Mix 12 drops of carrier oil for every 1 or 2 drops of essential oil. Do a skin patch test first. If there’s no irritation in 24 hours, you can apply it directly to your chest.

7. Take a decongestant

Decongestants are available in liquid, tablet, or nasal spray form at your local drugstore. Common OTC options include:

  • oxymetazoline (Vicks Sinex): This is a nasal spray that shouldn’t be used for longer than three days.
  • pseudoephedrine (Sudafed): People with certain conditions may need to avoid taking Sudafed.

Follow the directions on the packaging. A decongestant can speed up your heart rate and make it harder to fall asleep. You may find it better to take it during the day.

8. Slather on a vapor rub

Vapor rubs contain decongestive ingredients, but they’re applied topically instead of ingested.

You can usually rub it onto your chest every night until the symptoms stop. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.

In one older 2010 study, researchers studied children who received either vapor rub treatment, petrolatum ointment, or no medication. Vapor rub scored the highest in providing relief from cough and congestion.

Another 2017 study found that people with a cold who used Vicks VapoRub could sleep better at night, though the study didn’t determine whether this is definitely due to the relief of symptoms like a cough.

9. Avoid smoking

Smoking can actually increase mucus in your airway, so it’s a good idea to avoid it.

Read more about how to quit smoking.

10. Eat certain foods

Try adding more onion, garlic, lemon, or cayenne pepper to your food.

A 2018 survey suggests they may help relieve symptoms of colds and coughs, which includes reducing mucus. Spicy foods containing capsaicin might also provide temporary relief of sinus congestion by stimulating the flow of mucus.

If you find that the mucus lasts for more than 3 to 4 days or that your condition gets worse quickly, your doctor may suggest a prescription decongestant, which is stronger than an OTC decongestant

They may also prescribe a prescription nasal spray to help open up your nasal passageway.

Talk with your doctor about how long you should use them. Typically, if you use decongestant nasal sprays for more than 3 days in a row, you may end up stuffed up again.

Learn about the types of decongestants.

If your symptoms persist, make an appointment to see your doctor. This is especially true if you have a fever, chest pain, or trouble breathing.

It’s also important to see a doctor if:

  • the congestion worsens and lasts longer than 3 or 4 days
  • mucus changes from a runny substance to a thicker texture
  • mucus has a green or yellow color, as this may indicate an infection

In most cases, mucus and related congestion will clear up within 7 to 9 days.

What makes phlegm go away?

If your excess mucus isn’t going away, it means your body is still fighting an infection or you are still being exposed to something irritating like an allergen.

For relief, try drinking more water, using a humidifier, and taking over-the-counter decongestants. If this doesn’t help, your doctor may need to give you a prescription for stronger medication.

Is mucus good or bad for the body?

You need some mucus to moisturize your mucous membranes and filter out allergens and microorganisms from your nose and mouth. However, too much mucus usually indicates a respiratory illness like a cold, allergies, or asthma.

What causes mucus in the throat?

Your body produces mucus to cover the moist surfaces of your body, like your lungs, sinuses, or mouth. When your body is fighting a cold or reacting to an allergen, the body will make more mucus.

There are a number of home remedies that may help relieve chest congestion, such as gargling with salt water, using essential oils, or taking an OTC decongestant.

That said, if symptoms don’t improve, you may need prescription medication that will depend o the cause.