Did you know that the mucus in your airways naturally protects you from pathogens?
According to the American Lung Association, occasional cough is a normal (and automatic) body process which helps you to clear your airways and throat from excess mucus, irritants, and dust that you’ve inhaled. 
However, when cough is accompanied by other symptoms like shortness of breath, chest congestion, mucus production, or phlegm accumulation (mucus byproduct caused by infection in sinuses or lungs) it may suggest the development of various health conditions: 
- Common cold and flu
- Environmental allergy
- Bacterial infection (e.g., bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia)
- Viral infection in the respiratory tract (e.g., Covid-19)
- Chronic lung disease
While in some cases chest congestion may suggest serious health conditions that require medical attention and prescribed medication, other times it can be managed at home with suitable remedies, approved by your healthcare provider.
In this article we’ll take a look at 7 treatments to try at home that may help you improve chest congestion and get rid of the accumulated mucus/phlegm in your lungs.
Let’s get started!
Stay away from environmental irritants
According to a 2010 article published in the International Journal of General Medicine, after getting an accurate diagnosis about the cause of chest and nasal congestion, it’s key to stay away from all environmental factors that may stimulate excess mucus production in your chest and nose. The source suggests that such factors may include:
- Allergens (e.g., dust, pollen, animal fur, mold, and other particular objects/substances triggering allergic reaction)
- Irritants (e.g., smoke, fumes, strong odor, as well as chemicals found in cleaning and cosmetic products)
The evidence also suggests that low indoor humidity (<50%), using anti-allergen pillows and covers, as well as minimizing carpeting and integrating air-filtration may help relieve chest and nasal congestion.
Keep in mind that there is no conclusive evidence suggesting that vacuuming may reduce mucus production in airways, as the vacuum cleaner removes dust only superficially and doesn’t get into the deep layer of the carpets and rugs.
Consider taking OTC medicines
Evidence suggests that the intake of over-the-counter medicines may help patients get rid of excess mucus from their airways (chest and nose). However, the cause of the congestion should be taken into account before reaching for a specific medicine. 
Consulting your healthcare provider on your OTC medicine options will maximize efficiency and minimize the risk of unwanted effects.
Examples of OTC medicine for airway congestion include    :
- Antihistamines (when congestion is triggered by allergic reaction)
- Decongestants (in the form of spray, tablets, or liquid)
- Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin)
- Expectorants medicines (guaifenesin loosens the mucus in chest and facilitates its extraction)
Keep in mind that decongestants and antihistamines may have drying effect, which is beneficial when it comes to suppressing mucus production, but may trouble the extraction of already accumulated mucus in the chest. 
Prescription treatment used for hypersecretion of mucus in the chest includes the use of antibiotics, glucocorticoids, bronchodilators, aerosolized hypertonic saline, and others. 
Evidence suggests that drinking enough liquids to stay hydrated and prevent dehydration may loosen the phlegm (thick mucus) in your chest and facilitate its excretion (by coughing it out). 
Keep in mind that dehydration may cause the mucus in your chest to thicken and become stickier. This may prevent you from coughing it out effectively and may lead to complications.
Drink hot rather than cold beverages
According to the MayoClinic, drinking warm lemon water, juice, clear broth, chicken soup and other warm fluids may loosen congestion and facilitate coughing mucus out of the chest. 
Liquids which may dehydrate your body are not suitable for consumption. If you have chest congestion you should avoid alcohol and coffee (caffeine).
Try controlled coughing
According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, as coughing is a natural body response, controlled coughing may help loosen the mucus in your chest and help you move it up the airways. 
There are 7 steps of controlled coughing:
- Sit on the edge of the chair with both feet on the ground
- Lean slightly forward and relax
- Fold your arms over your belly and breathe in slowly through the nose
- Lean forward while exhaling and push your arms against the belly
- Caught 2-3 times while exhaling and pushing your arms against the belly. Try to make the coughs sharp and short to bring the mucus up the airways
- Inhale slowly though your nose and repeat
- Relax and repeat if needed.
*Better effect can be expected if controlled coughing is done after the intake of medicine, use of inhaler, or other mucus loosening treatment.
C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital also suggests that “postural drainage” may help drain mucus from the lungs and relieve chest congestion. 
Postural drainage consists of lying in different positions to move the mucus up the airways and eventually get it out of the chest.
Here are some guiding steps for postural drainage:
- Lie down on the floor or a bed and use pillows to support the different positions.
- Lie on your back and make sure your chest is lower than your hips (you can put 2 pillows below your hips to support the pose)
- Put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest. Inhale in your belly: your belly expands while your chest keeps static and does not move. Exhale and feel your belly tuck in. Keep “belly breathing” on your back for 5 minutes
- Turn on your side (chest lower than hips) and repeat the same breathing technique for 5 minutes. Repeat on both sides
- Lie on your stomach with 2 pillows below your hips. Put your arms by your head and use the belly breathing technique for 5 minutes
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital advises to do these poses on an empty stomach and at least 30 minutes after you’ve used an inhaler. So, you can try controlled coughing before postural drainage if you feel the need to cough. 
According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, using a humidifier should be considered carefully if you have chest congestion as it may actually worsen your symptoms. 
Cold winters, as well as indoor heating make the air both indoors and outdoors very dry, which may thicken the chest mucus and make it difficult to loosen or cough up. In that sense, using a humidifier or diffuser to increase the humidity and facilitate mucus drainage is a logical step.
However, there is no clear evidence to support the claim that using humidifiers is beneficial for chest congestion. In fact, evidence suggests that humid air may worsen the following health conditions:
- Allergy and asthma (as dust mites and mold love humid places)
- Infections (when humidifiers are used with tap water, are not cleaned thoroughly every 1-3 days, and filters are not changed weekly)
- Irritation and worsened symptoms of upper and lower respiratory tract conditions (when essential oils are put into the humidifier)
Here are 5 guidelines to use humidifier safely:
- Clear humidifier every 1-3 days and change the filter weekly
- Sick to distilled water to prevent transmission of bacteria
- Avoid strong chemicals when cleaning the humidifier (e.g., use dishwashing soap instead of bleach)
- Don’t turn the heat to maximum, as this may additionally dry the air in the room.