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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
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
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.
While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.
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
Learn about the types of decongestants.
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.
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.
Why won’t the mucus in my throat 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. Your doctor can determine the cause and suggest treatment.
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.