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Chest Congestion: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Medically reviewed by Kristina Campos, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 16, 2022

    Chest Congestion: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

    Chest congestion may occur due to common cold or a more serious medical condition of the respiratory system. Further, it may also be an underlying symptom of other health conditions. 

    When this happens, the tissues and blood vessels of the nose get clogged with mucus and fluid to develop a blocked nose. Similarly, the small airways of the respiratory system may also get blocked with mucus and phlegm. 

    The condition varies from mild and moderate to severe. Congestion of the chest can subside on its own within a few days without treatment. At other times, it may require prolonged treatment for several weeks.

    In other cases, it may also be recurrent. We will discuss the possible chest congestion symptoms and disorders that cause chest congestion later in the article.

    chest congestion

    Symptoms of Chest Congestion

    Chest congestion symptoms vary widely depending on the type of health condition that has caused phlegm and mucus in the chest. The possible symptoms are as below:

    • Coughing
    • Breathlessness/Difficulty in breathing
    • Wheezing, which is a sharp noise made when breathing in and out
    • Cough, first dry (non-productive), later, a lot of mucus is produced
    • Feelings of fullness in the chest
    • Tightness of the chest
    • Soreness of the chest
    • Soreness of the throat
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Headache
    • Body pain
    • Sudden, prolonged tiredness and fatigue
    • Runny and/or blocked nose
    • Watery eyes
    • Back and muscle pain 
    • Recurrent infections of the lower respiratory system amongst children.

    Causes of Chest Congestion

    Chest congestion causes are as below:


    This is an inflammatory condition of the breathing airways or bronchi due to a virus or bacteria. It is usually the same microorganism that also causes flu and the common cold.

    This raises the level of mucus production, thus, causing blockages in the chest. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Chronic bronchitis is common amongst smokers and usually lasts beyond 8 weeks. On the other hand, acute bronchitis lasts between 2 and 8 weeks. 

    Nontuberculous mycobacteria infection

    This health condition is similar to tuberculosis. But the primary difference is that, unlike tuberculosis, this condition is not contagious. It manifests through symptoms like cough, sudden loss of weight, and fatigue.


    Bronchiectasis develops gradually over the years and gets aggravated with each recurrent infection. For those with this condition, the stagnant mucus and sputum in the airways offers an ideal ambiance for bacterial growth, causing a flare-up of the symptoms. 

    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

    COPD is one of the most severe conditions of congestion in the chest that may gradually prove to be life-threatening.

    This is a lung condition that usually manifests itself through symptoms like difficulty in breathing, wheezing, fatigue, productive cough, excessive production of phlegm in the chest. It may also lead to other complications as the condition progresses.

    The likely risk factors of this condition are:

    • Active and passive smoking
    • Air pollution
    • Lack of maintenance of hand hygiene
    • Common cold
    • Asthma and other allergies
    • Sinus infection


    The diagnostic procedure for congestion of the chest is based on thorough physical examination, personal and family history of medical condition, followed by diagnostic tests. 

    The objective of the medical tests is to diagnose the location of congestion. What’s more, it can also confirm the presence of a bacteria-related medical condition that is causing congestion of the chest.

    These tests can also help in detecting other underlying medical conditions that are being manifested through congestion in the chest. Some of the medical tests that may be recommended are.

    Chest X-ray

    The imaging test produces images of the respiratory system and the adjoining organs like the heart and lungs. It helps with the diagnosing, but doctors often rely more on clinical presentation.

    Lung function tests

    This test analyzes the quantity of air being inhaled and exhaled by the patient. It can also evaluate the time being taken for breathing air in and out. Lung function tests are effective for diagnosing the presence of asthma, allergy, and other underlying medical conditions.


    Mild and moderate conditions of cold and chest congestion usually heal on their own. If it persists beyond two weeks, it is essential for you to seek the advice of a doctor.

    When symptoms like cough persist for more than 2 weeks, one should visit the doctor. Treatment methods vary widely depending on the symptoms accompanying chest congestion and the medical condition causing it. The primary advice for treating congestion of the chest are:

    • Keep yourself hydrated at frequent intervals. This will ensure that the mucus remains hydrated, preventing it from becoming thick. Thick mucus will aggravate chest congestion. 
    • Quit smoking and/or stay away from secondhand smoking as well.
    • Avoid conditions that trigger asthma and other allergies, if any.
    • Stay away from air pollution and other foreign irritants.
    • Opt for a flu shot once every year and make sure that you are up-to-date with your Pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination.
    • Commonly used medications are antibiotics, cough expectorants, and corticosteroids. Paracetamol may be given in case of fever.

    Not all medical conditions that cause congestion of the chest can be cured. One of the examples is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the condition can be treated with medications to relieve pain, ease discomfort, and prevent it from becoming life-threatening.

    Lifestyle Changes

    • Avoid smoking, both active and secondhand smoking, which are leading triggers of the symptoms of medical conditions related to congestion in the chest.
    • Ensure that your children have been immunized. 
    • Practice good hygiene to prevent harmful bacteria and viruses from entering your body through food, which raises the risk of such health conditions. 
    • Maintain an active lifestyle and follow a regular fitness routine.
    • Maintain a healthy diet to keep your weight in check. 

    Home Remedies

    Natural remedies that can heal congested chest are:


    Opt for a humidifier to prevent the air at home from drying. This will ensure that the air you breathe in is also not dry, thus, controlling the risk of the mucus becoming thick and sticky.

    Vapor rubs

    These are recognized as cough suppressants that reduce pain. These contain menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil that heal cough and cold and prevent mucus formation. 

    Drink hot beverages

    Warm water, broths, green tea, decaffeinated coffee, etc. help in alleviating mucus formation and keeping the airways clean. You can add honey and lemon in warm water or herbal tea as these are rich in antioxidants, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. 


    Herbs like ginger, garlic, and spices like chili pepper clear phlegm from the airways, ensuring a smooth breathing passage. 


    With caution, place your face near a pot of boiling water and cover your head entirely to prevent the stream from escaping. Inhale the steam deeply to clear out your airways. 

    Essential oils

    Mix essential oils like eucalyptus oil, thyme, or oregano with a carrier oil like olive oil, almond oil, or coconut oil and use it for aromatherapy.

    These have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that relieve symptoms of allergies and sinus infection by preventing chest congestion. 

    Learn more about respiratory health, here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Kristina Campos, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Jun 16, 2022

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