Chest congestion is the term used for the tightness or heavy feeling in the chest caused by the lack of proper supply of air/oxygen flowing into the lungs. The condition entails difficulty in breathing, chest pain and discomfort. Generally, the constricted feeling in the chest is caused by fluid buildup in and around the lungs. This is the immune response of the respiratory track system upon inhaling several foreign particles such as bacteria, viruses, allergens, and other infections.
When breathing, the air is filtered by and the foreign particles are usually trapped in the mucus that covers the mucus membrane inside the nose through the airways. The mucus now carrying the foreign bodies is then transported towards the throat, and from there, it can either be swallowed or coughed out. However, heavy accumulation of dust particles can irritate the mucus membrane or substantial manifestation of virus or bacteria can cause an infection. Both will cause inflammation of the lower respiratory track because of the development of extra mucus in the airways. The incidence of extra and in fact thicker mucus is one of the body’s response to remove the irritant. Yet, this time, the body cannot easily get rid of the excess mucus in the usual manner like coughing or swallowing, causing it to mount up in the chest region, which then causes the congestion. The overfilling of mucus in the chest hinders the proper movement of air through the lungs resulting to difficulty in breathing.
Chest congestion symptoms include pain in the center of the chest and in the throat, shortness of breath or labored breathing, wheezing sound when breathing, difficulty in swallowing, dizziness and discomfort, runny nose, and cough that can either be wet or dry. Wet or productive cough means phlegm is brought out when the person coughs; otherwise, it is a dry or unproductive cough. If the person is also experiencing fever and chills, it indicates infection.
Chest congestion is usually an indication for or is caused by different health conditions ranging from a simple common cold to a more serious illness such as heart failure. The common causes are common colds (as mentioned), flu virus, airborne allergies, and sinus infections. In these cases, the chest pain is more of a discomfort and will usually disappear not longer than a week. However, if the person experiencing the symptoms has a weak immune system, the congestion may lead to more serious health problems caused by secondary infections like bronchitis or pneumonia. Other severe ailments that cause the congestion are respiratory infections, asthma, heart failure, and lung cancer. Exposure to pollution and toxic gases and chemicals and smoking are also risk factors that may cause breathing problems and eventually more serious respiratory track conditions.
Different Treatment Options for Chest Congestion Relief
There are numerous options to achieve chest congestion relief and the types of treatments depend on the current symptoms and causes associated with the breathing difficulty and the severity of the condition. Breathing discomfort can be cured independently from what is causing it in order to give immediate breathing relief to the patient. We can categorized the treatment options into three: the home remedies, the prescribed medications, and the preventive measures.
Home remedies are helpful immediate treatments for chest congestions that are not persistent or are not caused by any serious conditions. Breathing discomforts caused by common colds or flu can be addressed by home remedies.
If the symptoms do not improve with any of the home remedies or have worsen after a week, seeking expert help from a physician is advised in order for the patient to be professionally instructed on how to get rid of chest congestion in accordance with the persistent symptoms. Prescribed chest congestion medicine treatments will now take over after the analysis of the diagnostics and lab tests results.
Preventive remedies are for people who suffer chest congestion more often although not persistent – that is, the condition comes often when exposed to triggering agents but does not necessarily worsen every time. This should mean that the person has weak immunity and should take preventive measures so as not to experience breathing problems frequently.
Most Beneficial Home Remedies for Chest Congestion
Home remedies for chest congestion are beneficial for all ages, best option for circumstances such as pregnancy wherein pharmaceutical products has to be avoided, and safe from side effects associated in the treatment. There are two forms of home remedies for breathing discomforts: natural remedies in the form of foods and drinks that can commonly be found in the households and the helpful conducts that aids the congestion relief.
Helpful Conducts That Relieves Breathing Discomforts
- Steam Inhaling. The steam’s heat and moisture help loosen up and dissolve mucus by liquefying them. In simple steam inhaling, you just need to prepare a large bowl containing boiled water then bend over the bowl and cover your head with clean towel that drape over the bowl so as to preserve the steam. Take deep breaths and inhale the vapors to feel the relief. For better and faster relief, you can drop essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, or rosemary into the boiled water. The refreshing and invigorating aroma of these essential oils help open up the airways from congestion.
- Steamy Shower. Bathing with hot water also helps in loosening the congestion.
- Hot Compress. Applying a hot pack or cloth on your chest and throat and feel the immediate soothing of the congestion.
- Salt water gargle. Gargling with water mixed with a teaspoon of salt few times a day can help remove the mucus and reduce the throat irritation.
- Elevate your head when sleeping. Elevating your head will stimulate the drainage of mucus, avoiding excessive build up overnight.
Common Natural Home Remedies for Chest Congestion
- Keep hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids, preferably warm, is very effective in thinning out the thickened mucus and in flushing it off through much easier coughing. Adequate liquids will help to induce productive cough, which will result to chest congestion relief. One effective fluid soother for chest congestion is drinking plain warm water every time you feel thirsty and most especially when you feel the mucus has thickened.
- It has an excellent anti-inflammatory agent that effectively relieves chest discomfort caused by the inflammation of the lower respiratory tract. Compounds present in ginger inhibit the excessive secretion of mucus as well as fight infections that caused the congestion. It can be made as tea by adding a small amount of freshly peeled ginger into a cup of hot water then let it stay for a few minutes and add a little honey before drinking. It can also be chewed directly for an even faster relief.
- The component quercetin present in onions help in breaking down the mucus and prevents further thickening of mucus in the chest. It can be chewed raw or with a little sugar to supplement the taste. You can also grind it into thin paste then mix it with two tablespoon of water, four tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and two tablespoon of honey. Heat the paste and then have a pinch three times a day.
- It is rich in vitamin C that helps improve the immunity and helps fight the probable virus or bacteria that caused congestion. Lemon’s citric acids also reduce the thickness of mucus already present. You can make a pure lemon juice with hot water or mix it with honey for a better result.
- It is a natural cough suppressant, which is effective as a stand-alone congestion treatment or can be mixed with other natural congestion remedies. Taking a spoonful or two of honey can ease the cough and congestion for several hours. You can also mix it with warm water for your drink.
- Black Coffee. This is advised for those suffering breathing discomfort due to asthma attack. Drinking a cup or two will help ease the breathing, but remember not to drink more than two cups as it can cause adverse effects to asthma patients.
- Hot and spicy food. Foods containing chili, garlic, black pepper and ginger paste help in the decongesting process of the mucus and aids in getting rid of unwanted bacteria.
General Prescriptions for Chest Congestion Medicine
A person suffering from worse or persistent chest congestion symptoms should prompt to seek medical help as it can be caused by some other serious ailments. Typically, on consultation, the doctor will initially determine if there is indeed a fluid accumulation around the patient’s heart and lungs with the use of a stethoscope. The patient’s oxygen level intake is also measured if it is within the normal level with the use of a device for pulse ox reading.
In most cases of persistent breathing discomforts and coughs, the physician will request a set of lab tests such as chest x-ray in order to confirm the presence of fluids in or around the chest cavity and to check for any inflammation in the chest region. If there is indeed an infection, the narrowing down of what caused the infection demands a few more set of lab tests.
To relieve the cough and to help ease up the congestion, over-the-counter chest congestion medicine is readily available such as cough syrups. One thing to remember when opting for cough medicines: use cough expectorant, not a suppressant. With cough suppressants, the body is unable to expel out the mucus and taking it does not result to productive cough. Congestion occurs because of the excessive mucus present in the airways making breathing difficult; these excess mucus should be expelled out through productive coughing and this is possible with expectorant cough meds.
Some cough medicines contain menthol. Its menthol content helps in opening up the airways and ease up the congestion, making it easier to breath. Mentholated chest rubs can also provide immediate ease of breathing.
If upon the consultation, an infection is suspected, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics. For heavy breathing caused by allergies, the immediate medication is to take up antihistamine drugs as is prescribed by the physician. A combination of antibiotic and cough medicine is usually prescribed in an attempt to provide quick relief of cough and congestion.
For severe cases, of which the congestion is constricted enough to decrease the patient’s oxygen level, hospitalization may be necessary in order for the patient to be supplied with adequate level of oxygen.
Asthmatics initially address the first signs of congestion with an inhaler in the hope to fight off a total asthma attack. Inhaler provides instantaneous relief of opening up the airways. The use of nebulizer, a breathing machine, is the recommended treatment for a full blown asthma attack. The machine contains asthma medication in vapor form, which can then be inhaled easily. The treatment typically clears out the mucus and immediately relieves congestion.
Preventive Measures to Avoid Chest Congestion
There are many other home remedies and pharmaceutical treatments existing than what are already cited. However, people should somehow stop asking how to get rid of chest congestion and instead ask for preventive measures so as not to experience it too often or to prevent the congestion from worsening.
The most important preventive measure is inhibition as often as possible from the known risk factors of cough and chest congestion, those that can actually be avoided, such as smoking and secondhand smoke exposure, pollution, chemicals and toxic fumes, and allergens such as pollens and dusts. It is also as much important to strengthen the immune system so as not to be susceptible to illnesses. This is possible by having a balanced diet rich in vitamin C and E. Staying hydrated all the time helps in regularly flushing out foreign particles from the body, thus preventing buildup. Simple exercise like walking or practicing yoga can effectively reduce or prevent chest congestion as well. Proper exercise can also strengthen the breathing muscles and stimulates the immune system functions. Adequate sleep and rest is also important to keep the immune system refreshed.