What causes chest congestion?

What causes chest congestion?

What is Chest Congestion?

Chest congestion is a symptom of a respiratory infection and occurs when far too much mucus builds up in your lungs. When your body gets a respiratory infection, to protect itself it overproduces mucus hence creating congestion around your chest. It is basically that tight chest feeling you get when you are sick. There are ways to get rid of chest congestion, before we get to that we have to look at what really causes this can’t breathe feeling that takes your breath away.

Causes of chest congestion

The most common causes of chest congestion are the particles in the air and the bacteria and viruses that are the cause of upper respiratory tract infections.

Airborne particles

As much as the air you breathe keeps you alive, there are things in the air that can enter your body just by taking a breath—such as allergens and dust. In most situations, these particles are not harmful and become trapped in the mucus membrane of your nose and airways. These trapped particles are then transported by tiny hair-like structures called cilia along with mucus towards your throat. That mucus can cause that congested feeling in your chest.

Bacteria and Viruses

An inhaled virus or bacteria can cause an infection, leading to chest congestion. At first, bacteria and viruses work much like allergens, entering your body through the mucus membrane and being transported by the cilia. But they also cause inflammation, which in turn makes your body produce excess mucus in your airways in an attempt to remove them. Your body may not be able to get rid of this excessive, thicker mucus in the usual ways, and the mucus gets stuck inside your lungs, which results in a congested chest.

Chest Congestion Symptoms

The normal symptoms you might be familiar with are heavy chest and wheezing breath but unfortunately, those are not the only chest congestion symptoms. The symptoms are mostly worse in the morning and include:

  • 1. Excess Mucus & Phlegm: When you have bacteria or viruses in your lungs, phlegm and mucus production will go into overdrive to try and get rid of them. Your body’s natural defense response to an irritant is by producing more mucus. The texture and color of your mucus might start to change as your chest congestion develops. Starting from thick, clear, or white mucus. Then it could turn yellow or green. While green mucus doesn’t necessarily mean you are in need of aggressive treatment, black mucus may signify a sign of a bigger issue, and it is recommended to see a doctor.
  • 2. Coughing: With excess mucus, the likely scenario is that you will develop a cough. This is your body’s first response in getting rid of harmful particles. Coughs that expel sputum are called productive coughs. The presence of extra mucus in the chest triggers your cough reflex. Though this can be the most annoying and uncomfortable thing to be stuck with, coughing up mucus is actually good for your chest and helps remove germs from the airways. Unfortunately, this cough can start very early and continue to persist even after most of your symptoms subside.
  • 3. Shortness of breath: With all that mucus filling up your lungs, they are going to stop functioning normally. This results in shortness of breath and can also be a sign of more serious infections like bronchitis.

What does chest congestion feel like?

To put mildly, chest congestion is a layman’s term when excessive mucus builds up in your lungs. Your chest may feel heavy and stiff, and taking a deep breath may become painful. You cough might produce mucus that changes color the more congested your chest becomes.

How long does chest congestion last?

Symptoms can be managed with over the counter medication and if you are successful in getting rid of the chest cold before it becomes congested, you probably wouldn’t need to see a doctor. Typically, your symptoms should improve within a week or 10 days, although a cough can be a bother for about 3 weeks. Make sure to see a doctor for any cough that lingers longer than 3 weeks.

What does it mean when you have congestion in your lungs?

It means your body is overproducing mucus to get rid of bacteria or viruses.



What can I drink to cleanse my lungs?

Green Tea is highly recommended. It is a great remedy to cleanse your lungs and contains anti-inflammatory properties that may help in reducing inflammation in the lungs.

Will a chest infection go away without antibiotics?

In most cases, treatment depends on the cause of the chest infection. When a virus like viral bronchitis is the cause, it usually clears up after a few weeks and antibiotics won’t be of help. Still, if symptoms persist seek medical help.

What’s the difference between mucus and phlegm?

Mucus and phlegm are similar, yet different: Mucus is a thinner secretion from your nose and sinuses. Phlegm is thicker and is made by your throat and lungs.

How do I bring up mucus?

Using your stomach muscles, forcefully expel the air in your chest. Avoid a hacking cough or merely clearing your throat. A deep cough is less tiring and more effective in clearing mucus out of the lungs. Huff coughing, or huffing, is another option to deep coughing if you have trouble clearing your mucus.

How to Get Rid of Chest Congestion

There are a few tried and tested chest congestion remedies as well as some effective over the counter treatments. Here’s how to clear chest congestion the old fashion way:

  • Stay hydrated: Water is a natural and good chest congestion remedy. Drinking lots of water helps to thin thick mucus in the lungs, making it easier to release.
  • Steam It: Steam helps moisten the airways, loosening dried mucus, making it easier to cough up. You can use a humidifier or create your own steam room with a bowl of hot water and a towel over your head. Or just have a hot shower. 

Here’s how to clear chest congestion with medication:

  • Cough Syrup: Not only do cough syrups help stop your cough, but some also go to the source of the chest congestion. Look for cough syrups with expectorants in them. Expectorants loosen mucus in the lungs, making it easier to expel. The main ingredient to look for is guaifenesin or glyceryl guaiacolate. Expectorants are one of the most effective chest congestion remedies. 
  • Cough and Cold Pills: Aside from helping to relieve other cold and flu symptoms, many cold pills contain the expectorant guaifenesin as well and work to expel phlegm faster, relieving your chest congestion symptoms. 

When to see your doctor about chest congestion

Chest congestion can be uncomfortable but isn’t always serious. However, you should see your doctor immediately if:

  • You develop a fever higher than 100° F
  • You're having trouble breathing
  • You’re coughing up blood
  • Your chest cold is keeping you up all night
  • You’re experiencing wheezing
  • You have shortness of breath
  • Your cold doesn't start getting better in seven to ten days
  • You’re seeing black mucus


Chest congestions tend to follow a common cold or flu. But symptoms are often short-lived and improve in about a week, although a nagging cough can be irritating and keep you up at night. If you have a weak immune system, a cough that doesn’t improve, or if you develop symptoms of bronchitis or pneumonia, see your doctor. Difficulty breathing, especially at rest, or coughing up brown, bloody mucus can indicate a serious problem that requires medication or a system like a portable oxygen concentrator.