How To Relieve Chest Congestion

Try these home remedies for symptomatic relief.

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Chest congestion—when you have a lot of mucus in your chest that won't come up, no matter how hard you cough—can be caused by any number of ailments, with the typical causes being the common cold and the flu.

If you have chest congestion, home remedies like hot steam, herbal tea, and certain medications can relieve it, even though they won't cure the infection that may be causing it. Here are some options for symptomatic relief.


Getting moisture into the air with a humidifier can be a helpful home remedy for chest congestion. It doesn't work for everyone, but it's worth a try as long as you use it safely, said Alan Mensch, MD, a pulmonologist and senior vice president of medical affairs at Northwell Health's Plainview Hospital in Plainview, New York.

Humidifiers can breed mold and fungi, which can cause their own infections. Clean your humidifier according to the manufacturer's instructions. "They're probably safe as long as they're kept clean," Dr. Mensch said.

Position Changes

Sitting up while you're awake may help you feel less congested. Additionally, according to the American Lung Association, changing how you lie down can be beneficial for clearing up any mucus in your chest. You might also opt to prop yourself up with pillows whenever you're ready to get some sleep, which can help you rest and recover from your illness.

Hot Shower

Spending time in a hot shower is a more targeted way to get the moisture where it needs to go than using a humidifier. Another option is to run hot water in your sink and cover your head and the faucet with a towel, breathing in the steam.

"That warm steam helps the airways open up a little bit and helps you start getting stuff up," said Alice Hoyt, MD of the Hoyt Institute of Food Allergy.

Steam also gets you to take a break from your frenzied daytime activities. "So many people are very, very busy and stressed and aren't able to take time to rest," Dr. Hoyt said, which is also important for feeling better.

A word of caution: If you have asthma, inhaling steam may constrict your airways, said Norman Edelman, MD, professor of Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University, and senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association.

Over-the-Counter Expectorants

Colds and the flu are most often caused by viral infections. Although over-the-counter treatments won't cure you of those viruses, they can bring symptom relief, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Medications called expectorants contain an ingredient called guaifenesin, which may help break up the mucus in your chest. Common brands include Mucinex and Robitussin.

Chest congestion medications containing guaifenesin aren't always a hit with everyone. "There's no consistent evidence that they really work," Dr. Mensch said. But if you decide to try them and they help your symptoms, they're generally fine to use, Dr. Mensch added.

Hot Beverages or Soup

Staying hydrated with enough water can help loosen mucus, as water makes the substance thinner, per the American Lung Association. Additionally, a warm drink like decaf tea might be soothing if you've been coughing due to chest congestion and has the added benefit of being able to inhale some steam while you take a sip.

There's also some scientific evidence behind the classic recommendation to sip chicken soup to ease chest congestion—though more research is needed to determine its effectiveness.

In a study published in October 2000, researchers tested the chicken soup cure in the lab and reported the results in the journal Chest. They found the soup recipe they tested had a mild anti-inflammatory effect, which might explain the benefit on chest congestion, though they couldn't pinpoint an exact ingredient. (The recipe included sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, onions, carrots, celery, and parsley).

The lead author of the 2000 Chest study, pulmonary disease researcher Stephen Rennard, MD, wrote another article to address many queries about using soup to treat COVID-19. Dr. Rennard acknowledged in the September 2020 Chest article that the study from 2000 probably received more widespread attention than was scientifically justified but wrote that treatments like homemade soup might have benefits beyond their medicinal value.

"Chicken soup, often made by a lengthy and loving process, can provide real psychosocial support," Dr. Rennard wrote.


For an extra kick of relief, try adding some honey to a warm drink (e.g., tea) to help clear up chest congestion even further.

Researchers of an April 2021 study published in the National Journal of Physiology, Pharmacy and Pharmacology noted that honey has nutrients to boost the immune system. When mixed with warm water, which can dissolve phlegm in the respiratory tract, honey can help with relief from coughing as well.

Keep in mind: Honey shouldn't be given to children under 1 year old, due to a risk of botulism (a toxin-caused illness that affects the body's nervous system), according to the CDC.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

Chest congestion is sometimes a minor nuisance that may not require treatment. However, if bothersome chest congestion or coughing is accompanied by a fever or lasts more than three weeks, or if the mucus has blood in it, you should see a healthcare provider, according to the CDC. You may need further examination or treatment.

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