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Chest congestion is a common symptom of a cold or the flu, so most of us know how unpleasant it can feel.1 But what exactly causes chest congestion, and how can we get rid of it? Learn more about chest congestion symptoms, causes and remedies below.
What causes chest congestion?
Mucus (or ‘phlegm’) is a key line of defense for your body. Its job is to intercept irritants, which can range from household dust or smoke to cold and flu viruses, so that they can be coughed out. This is your body’s way of helping to clear your airways.1
Cold or Flu
The most common cause of chest congestion, however, is the common cold or the flu.2 And when your mucus membranes become irritated by a cold or flu virus, they produce more mucus, which can build up in your airways and cause chest congestion.1,2
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and fatigue. COVID-19 sufferers may present shortness of breath that is caused by mucus build up in the chest.7 However, this is a serious symptom. COVID-19 symptoms usually last approximately 14 days.7 Some other common symptoms that are signs of COVID include loss of smell, body aches, and headache.7
Chest congestion symptoms
If you are suffering from chest congestion, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:2
- Tightness in the chest
- Cough accompanied by a wheezing or rattling sound
- Difficulty breathing
If you experience any of the following, seek medical attention:1
- You've had a cough for more than three weeks
- Your cough is particularly severe
- You cough up blood or experience shortness of breath, breathing difficulties or chest pain
- You have any other worrying symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, a persistent change in your voice, or lumps or swellings in your neck
Seek medical care immediately if you or someone else is showing any of the following warning signs for COVID-19*:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
*This list is not all possible COVID-19 symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
Most coughs will clear up on their own within three weeks. If your cough persists for longer than this, however, speak to your doctor so they can investigate the cause of your symptoms.1
- How to get rid of chest congestion: chest congestion remedies
There’s no doubt that chest congestion can be uncomfortable and frustrating, and the frequent coughing that it can cause can make both your throat and chest sore. Luckily, there are some simple actions you can take to help ease chest congestion symptoms while your body recovers from a cold or flu virus. These range from easy home remedies to over-the-counter medicine.
Home remedies for chest congestion relief
- Drink warm liquids. Sipping on warm liquids such as tea, broth or soup may be soothing and might help to ease congestion by increasing the flow of mucus and relieving the pressure in the airways.1
- Add moisture to the air. Using a humidifier adds moisture to the air in the room, which can help to loosen congestion.3
- Try honey and lemon. If your chest congestion is causing a cough, a nice hot honey and lemon drink may help soothe a sore throat. Simply squeeze half a lemon into a cup of boiled water and add 1-2 teaspoons of honey (Note: Do not give hot drinks to small children).4 Since this is a warm drink, it can also help to ease congestion.3,4
- Rest and stay hydrated. Chest congestion is often a symptom of a cold or the flu, so it’s important to stay home from work or school and give your body the rest it needs to support your recovery.2,3,4,5 Avoid overexerting yourself and be sure to keep up your fluid intake with plenty of water and other liquids.3
- Slowly suck on cough drops. The menthol ingredient in most cough drops can help cool the airways in your throat.8 Cough drops can also relieve some of the stuffiness you might feel from the mucus build-up in your chest. Cough drops are not suitable for young children. Always read and follow label directions.8
Don’t smoke or be around anyone who smokes.8 Smoking and breathing in second-hand smoke can further irritate your airways. Breathing in smoke can increase your coughing and add to the mucus build-up in your chest.
OTC chest congestion medicine
While these home remedies can certainly help to ease some of your chest congestion symptoms, there are also OTC cold and flu medicines available that can provide you with effective relief from chest congestion – like Theraflu Cough Relief Hot Liquid.
Theraflu Cough Relief contains a 2-in-1 formulation of active ingredients to not only relieve that nasty cough, but also to help loosen mucus that contributes to chest congestion.
Battling other cold and flu symptoms other than chest congestion? Theraflu Multi-Symptom Severe Cold Hot Liquid Powder can give you relief from nasal and sinus congestion, cough, headache and body aches, sore throat and fever. Always use products as directed.
Learn more about cold and flu prevention.
Simply squeeze half a lemon into a cup of boiled water and add 1-2 teaspoons of honey (Note: Do not give hot drinks to small children).4 Since this is a warm drink, it can also help to ease congestion.3,4
1. Cough. NHS Inform. https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/lungs-and-airways/cough. Accessed 16/06/20.
2. Cracking the cough code. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/cracking-the-cough-code. Accessed 16/06/20.
3. Cold remedies. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/in-depth/cold-remedies/art-20046403. Accessed 16/06/20.
4. Cough. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cough/. Accessed 16/06/20.
5. Cough (Causes & symptoms). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/cough/basics/causes/sym-20050846. Accessed 23/07/20
6. Acute Bronchitis. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3993-bronchitis Accessed 5/25/21.
7. Allergies, Cold, Flu or COVID-19? Emerson Hospital. https://www.emersonhospital.org/articles/allergies-or-covid-19 Accessed 5/25/21.
8. Chest Cold. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/bronchitis.html Accessed 5/25/21.