Chest Congestion

Chest congestion happens to the best of us, and for a variety of reasons. If you have a virus, a cold, or the flu, if you have bronchitis, pneumonia, or any variety of ailment that causes phlegm and mucus to build up in the bronchial tubes, you may have symptoms of chest congestion…and you are likely feeling miserable.

Symptoms of chest congestion include a feeling of pressure on the chest and unproductive coughing, or coughing that doesn’t have any stuff coming up.  You might also feel like you can’t get a good, deep breath, or when you do it triggers a cough.  Obviously, crud buildup in your lungs impairs your body’s ability to efficiently process oxygen, so one would want to get rid of it. Your body will naturally want to dispose of chest congestion, but it’s always best to try and help those things along. With the right help, it’ll rise out of you like split pea soup from little Regan in The Exorcist.

Warning Signs

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below, you should see a doctor immediately…these are significantly more dangerous than usual chest congestion.  Sometimes, the same symptoms of routine chest congestion are also found in serious medical issues like heart attacks.  Do not pretend it is nothing — take action.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Cough lasting more than a week
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Blue-tinged skin or lips
  • Extreme lethargy/fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty staying conscious

Best Ways to Get Rid of Chest Congestion


Drink plenty of fluids. This method does double duty. First, it helps fight off or flush out whatever caused the chest congestion in the first place, whether it was an allergen, irritant, virus, or bacteria. Your body needs lots of fluids, such as water and juices, to fight off the cause of chest congestion. But these fluids will also help your body treat the symptoms. A little extra fluid than normal will help your body liquefy and loosen up, and hence cough up, the sticky goo that’s sticking up your lungs. If water isn’t your cup of tea, as the expression goes, try juices, sports drinks, or hey, even a cup of tea. Green tea with honey can be particularly helpful, adding plenty of antioxidants and warm, mucus-busting fluids.

Drinking a fluid that is heavy on the H20 but also has some electrolytes is a great plan.  Don’t pound the sugary sport drinks, but something like the Nuun electrolyte pack mixes easily with water and can keep you balanced.  Find here on Amazon.

It’s important to stay hydrated!


Steam can help get rid of chest congestion. It helps loosen the phlegm, which not only makes your coughing more productive, but just gives you some relief too because it feels better.

As long as this is done safely, steam is one of the best home remedies to get rid of chest congestion. The combination of heat and moisture will loosen up the phlegm stuck in your bronchial tubes. One way to do this is to boil a pan of water, remove it from the heat, lower your face over the pan, and drape a towel over the back of your head to funnel the steam toward your face. However, this must be done with the utmost caution. For those that somehow may not know it yet, steam can cause some pretty nasty burns. If you don’t want to risk it, plug up the bathtub, run the shower really hot, and breathe. Just don’t stand in it.

Hot Compress

Get rid of chest congestion using a hot compress. Following the same idea that heat and moisture loosen up phlegm, try using a hot compress on the outside of your chest. Imagine that phlegm is like molasses. Now pretend that it’s cold and dry. You couldn’t pour it out of the bottle if you wanted to. But then imagine wrapping a very warm, wet towel around the bottle. That same principle will help loosen phlegm from your bronchial tubes so that it can be coughed up. Soak a towel with very warm water and apply it to your chest. Hold it there until the towel cools, and, if needed, rewet it with warm water and apply again. Just be certain that the towel isn’t so hot that it’ll burn you.


Use an over-the-counter expectorant. There are many products available at your local pharmacy or drugstore. Mucinex is a popular one that you can find in most drugstores, but plenty of off-brands are available as well. An expectorant will loosen up and help you get rid of phlegm in your lungs. If you have an irritating cough to contend with, consider using medication that has a cough suppressant as well. If you have chest congestion, never use a cough suppressant without an expectorant. That’s like locking phlegm in. And we want phlegm out. So use a suppressant only with an expectorant to back it up. You can get expectorants like Mucinex at Amazon.

Doctor Visit

See your doctor. Chronic, recurring chest congestion, or chest congestion that doesn’t go away within a few days, can be a symptom of a larger problem than a seasonal cold, allergies, or irritation caused by smoke. Many things can cause chest congestion, and many of these things can, and should, be treated, by a medical professional. These include: bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, lung cancer, and more. Only your doctor can diagnose and treat these problems. But, even if they sound scary, many can be treated, with the added bonus of getting rid of the symptoms of congestion.

Natural Expectorants

Hot Tea

Any sort of hot beverages, such as coffee or tea, will help to relieve chest congestion. Even hot water will do it. Tea has the added benefit of hydrating the body, but also providing caffeine, a stimulant that may help your body get rid of phlegm when taken in small amounts. Consider adding honey or lemon for additional expectorant powers, as well as nummy flavoring. We suggest Tazo Green Ginger tea, sold here at Amazon.

Lemon and Honey

Many people, particularly grandpas, swear that a brandy hot toddy will cure any ailment of the lungs. It’s not true, as alcohol can suppress your immune system. However, it’s no coincidence that these hot toddies have both lemon and honey in them. Replace the brandy with some tea, and you have an all-natural remedy to help get rid of chest congestion.


Eucalyptus is a great home remedy for chest congestion. Add ten to fifteen drops of eucalyptus oil to a pan of boiling water and (carefully!) inhale the steam. Or add a couple of drops to a cup of hot water, dip a cloth into it, place that over it your mouth, and inhale. This should help to get rid of mucus in the lungs and soothe a sore and scratchy throat.

Chest Congestion vs. Asthma

Sometimes chest congestion can be difficult to discern from the symptoms of asthma. One symptom of asthma is chest tightness. While congestion is more like a “clogging” feeling in the lungs, and sometimes mucus can be produced from coughing, chest tightness is a constriction of the bronchial tubes. Asthma causes swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes. An asthma cough will typically not produce mucus, and you probably won’t feel the sticky mucus rattling around your lungs either. You may notice that asthma “wheeze.” Only a doctor can diagnose you with asthma, which can be managed pretty well with prescription medication and a few lifestyle changes. And yes, that may include avoiding the jocks on the playground that love to give wedgies to those that need inhalers and can’t run away.

Chest Congestion and COVID-19

What if the congestion is caused by COVID-19, or the Coronavirus?  As we now know, COVID-19 is very contagious and can spread quickly.  In one person, it might be a mild illness, but in the next person, it could prove fatal.  Be very careful if you suspect that the chest congestion you feel might be caused by exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

The first thing to do is to stop infecting others, which means to cancel your public outings and try to quarantine yourself, just out of an abundance of caution.  Then, make arrangements to get tested.  At the time of this writing, testing for COVID-19 is improving and becoming more abundant.  Testing is critical, because it will tell you if you are simply dealign with something else, or if you potentially are at-risk of developing further symptoms.

Because of the importance of this topic to overall public health, we invite you to visit the CDC’s fact pages on Coronavirus. They have up-to-date, verified information.

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About the Author

Erin Eliason

Erin Eliason