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 certainly affect your quality of life. And 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.
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.
Drink lots of fluids. It sounds cliché, but you likely hear this advice so often because it works. Liquids help thin out mucus. Warm liquids in particular can help clear out mucus in the chest and nose. This can relieve congestion, giving you a small respite from your symptoms.
You may wish to try sipping:
- chicken noodle soup
- warm apple juice
- decaffeinated black or green tea
Use a humidifier
Steam can also help loosen mucus and clear up congestion. Depending on your needs, you can make your own steam room or humidifier at home. You can also pick up a humidifier at your local drug store. Cool mist humidifiers are an option, as well. They’re often preferred in warmer climates where steam may not be ideal.
You may find it beneficial to use the humidifier at night and keep it near your bed. This may help ease congestion while you’re sleeping so that you can sleep easier through the night. Be sure to keep your bedroom door and window closed to keep the vapor from escaping.
There are a couple of ways to DIY your own humidifier:
Allow your shower to become a sauna. Let the water run until it begins to steam up the bathroom. To maximize your steam, step into the shower and close the curtain or door. Make sure the showerhead is pointed away from you so that the water doesn’t scald your skin.
Use a bowl and a towel. For a more targeted steam, place a large bowl in your sink and fill it with hot water. Once it’s full, lean over the bowl. Place a hand towel over your head to help trap the steam around your face.
There aren’t any set guidelines for how long to sit in the steam, so use your best judgment. If at any point the heat becomes overwhelming or makes you uncomfortable, remove yourself from the steam. Drinking a glass of cold water can help you cool down and rehydrate.
Natural remedies are often beneficial in cases of mild or infrequent congestion. Give these natural options a shot.
Researchers in one 2007 study found evidence to suggest that buckwheat honey may be more effective than traditional medication at relieving cough and congestion. The researchers enrolled 105 children between the ages of 2 and 18 to participate. They received buckwheat honey, a honey-flavored cough suppressant known as dextromethorphan, or nothing at all. Results revealed that parents found buckwheat honey to provide the most symptom relief for their kids.
You can purchase buckwheat honey at most health food stores and specialty food shops. Simply take a spoonful every few hours like you would any cough medicine. However, you shouldn’t give honey to children who are younger than 1 year due to the risk of botulism.
Use essential oils
Certain essential oils can help loosen mucus in the chest. The findings of a 2001 study showed that a variety of vaporized essential oils could inhibit the growth of bacteria that commonly cause respiratory infections. The researchers looked at cinnamon bark, lemon grass, and thyme essential oils.
Peppermint oil is also used as a natural decongestant. That’s why you often find menthol in cough drops and other cold medicines.
You can make use of essential oil in one of two ways:
Diffuse it: If you want to diffuse the oil into the air, you can pick up a diffuser from your local drug store. You can also add a couple drops of the oil to a hot bath or bowl of hot water so the scent is released into the air.
For a more targeted approach, fill a bowl with hot water and few drops the essential oil. Learn over the bowl and cover your head with hand towel to help trap the steam. Breathe in the steam for 5 to 10 minutes.
Apply it topically: You’ll need to do a skin patch test first. To do this, mix your essential oil with a carrier oil, like jojoba or coconut. The carrier oil helps dilute the essential oil and reduces your risk of irritation. A good rule of thumb is 12 drops of carrier oil for every 1 or 2 drops of essential oil. Then, apply the diluted oil to the inside of your forearm. If you don’t have any irritation within 24 hours, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.
Once it’s clear that the oil is safe on your skin, you can apply the diluted oil directly to your chest. Repeat as needed throughout the day.
Never apply an essential oil to inflamed, irritated, or injured skin. You should also keep all essential oils away from your eyes.
If home or natural remedies aren’t relieving your congestion, you want to give an OTC medication a try.
Take a decongestant
Decongestants are available in liquid, tablet, or nasal spray form at your local drug store. Common OTC options include:
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 during the daytime.
Slather a vapor rub
Vapor rubs also contain decongestive ingredients, but they’re applied topically instead of ingested.
In one 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. The ointment did not relieve symptoms significantly better than no treatment. So, it’s thought that the combined camphor and menthol of a vapor rub supply the most symptom relief.
You can purchase vapor rubs at any drug store. Common OTC chest rubs that contain camphor and menthol include:
You can usually rub it onto your chest every night until the symptoms go away. Be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.
If OTC options still don’t help, you should see your doctor. It’s important to determine the cause of your mucus and cough. They may recommend prescription-strength medication.
Discuss a prescription decongestant
If you find that the mucus lasts for more than three to four days, or that your condition gets worse quickly, you can ask your doctor for a prescription decongestant. It’s simply a stronger version of OTC decongestants. Your doctor will instruct you on how often to take it.
Discuss a prescription nasal spray
If the congestion is also in your nose, nasal decongestant sprays can help open up your nasal passageway. Talk to your doctor about how long you should use them. Typically, if you use nasal sprays for more than three days in a row, you may end up stuffed up again.
See your doctor
- the congestion worsens and lasts longer than three or four 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 seven to nine days.