Chest Congestion Home Remedies

How to get rid of congestion and feel better fast

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You get chest congestion when your lungs and lower airway passages (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and filled with mucus (also known as phlegm). Chest congestion is one way your immune system tries to protect you from pathogens (germs) that make you sick.

Chest congestion is often a symptom of respiratory infections such as the common cold, the flu, or bronchitis. This article goes over remedies for chest congestion, including both home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, plus when you should see a healthcare provider.

Air humidifier in bedroom


Home Remedies for Chest Congestion

Time and rest are the only two things that help you get over most viral infections. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer from chest congestion, though.

If your mucus is thick, it can be difficult to get it out of your lungs. Some home remedies can help reduce discomfort while you recover.

How Long Does Chest Congestion Last?

If you have a cold, the congestion is likely to begin one to three days after the infection and clear within a week. With bronchitis, chest congestion can last up to three weeks.

Drink Clear Fluids

Staying hydrated keeps your cells healthy. Drinking clear fluids may also help with chest congestion because it keeps your mucus viscous (thinner and easier to release from your lungs).

Hot liquids may offer an additional benefit—you can breathe in their steam, which can add moisture to your airways. A good guideline for hydration is to drink enough fluid to make your urine pale.

Healthy clear fluids that can keep you hydrated while you have chest congestion include:

  • Hot tea
  • Iced tea
  • Water
  • No-sugar-added juices
  • Broth

Use a Humidifier

Humidifiers add moisture to the air and help prevent dryness that can make your chest congestion worse. The water vapor droplets you breathe in add moisture to your nasal passages and airways.

This natural lubrication is useful for keeping mucus moving. That helps your body get rid of the virus.

If you’re struggling with chronic chest congestion from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), humidifiers can be especially useful for preventing air dryness that irritates and dries out your bronchial tubes.

Clean Your Humidifier

Studies have shown that reusable humidifiers can spread pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, in indoor spaces. However, researchers found no such contamination with disposable humidifiers. If you have a reusable humidifier, be sure to clean it thoroughly on a regular basis.

Take a Hot Shower

Breathing in the steam from a hot shower has been shown to help relieve chest congestion. In fact, steam inhalation is the preferred method of getting therapeutic agents (like water vapors) into your lungs.

The Right Pillow Height

You may want to make some adjustments to your pillows and sleep position.

Research suggests that keeping your head at the appropriate height—about 2 inches (or 5 centimeters)—helps air flow into the lungs and supports stable respiratory function. Pillows that are too high can bend your neck in a way that hinders proper airflow.

If you sleep on your side, adding a pillow between your legs and keeping your back straight can help reduce shortness of breath from chest congestion. It also helps to lie on your back with your head elevated, knees bent, and with a pillow under your knees.

Use Essential Oils

Essential oils are potent plant extracts that have various degrees of therapeutic properties. Adding them to a humidifier or steam that you're inhaling can help with chest congestion.

Eucalyptus oil is a popular choice for steam inhalation as it relieves inflammation and helps clear phlegm. It's quite pungent, though, and can cause sinus and skin irritation.

All essential oils should be used with caution. Ask your healthcare provider how much is safe to use.

OTC Medication

Over-the-counter medications can also help ease chest congestion symptoms. If you’re unsure about using an OTC medication with a home remedy such as essential oils, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist.


Expectorants increase the water content in your mucus, which thins it and makes it easier to cough up. They're commonly sold in syrup (liquid), pill, or tablet form.

Guaifenesin is the active ingredient in several common expectorants, including Mucinex and Robitussin.


Decongestants narrow your blood vessels, and that decreases inflammation in the airways so mucus can pass through better.

Options include:

  • Contac Cold
  • Drixoral Decongestant Non-Drowsy
  • Kid Kare Drops
  • Nasofed
  • Sudafed

Pseudoephedrine is a common active ingredient in decongestants. However, since it's sometimes used to make methamphetamine, you have to ask for it at the pharmacy counter. (It's still considered OTC because you don't need a prescription for it.)

Decongestants that are available on store shelves generally contain a similar drug called phenylephrine. Some products containing phenylephrine have the initials PE added to the name (e.g., Sudafed PE).

Vapor Rub

Vapor rub is an ointment made of petroleum jelly and essential oils, including:

  • Menthol
  • Camphor
  • Eucalyptus

It works when you rub it into your chest, neck, and back because these oils vaporize and you can breathe them into your lungs. Oils like eucalyptus oil may help fight inflammation and pain, as well as offer antibacterial effects.


Don't use vapor rub directly under your nose. That can cause respiratory distress and breathing problems.

Saline Drops

Saline drops, also known as saltwater wash, are an effective way of managing symptoms related to upper respiratory infections, including chest congestion.

They may be useful against a clogged nose and congested chest because they add moisture and help remove excess mucus, making breathing less challenging.

The drops are put in one nostril and allowed to flow to the other. You can use a dropper or gravity-based pressure through a vessel with a nasal spout, such as a Neti pot.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Chest congestion isn't always a cause for concern. Home remedies can help manage symptoms so you can rest and recover.

You should get medical care if:

  • You have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or are breathing faster than usual
  • You have a cough with bloody mucus
  • You have signs of dehydration (e.g., chapped lips or dark urine)
  • Your symptoms haven't resolved in 10 days
  • Your fever or cough improves and then returns or worsens
  • You have other medical conditions (like asthma or diabetes) that are worsening due to your sickness
  • You have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher


Chest congestion is caused by inflammation and excess mucus. They're part of your body's effort to keep pathogens out of your cells, where they can make you sick.

Home remedies include staying hydrated, moisturizing your airways with steam or a humidifier, breathing in essential oils, or the right sleep position.

OTC medications include expectorants, decongestants, vapor rub, and saline drops/washes.

You should see a healthcare provider if you have severe symptoms, signs of dehydration, other conditions that are worsening, or a fever over 100.4 degrees F.

A Word From Verywell

If you're ever concerned about a reaction to a home remedy or want more information on how to relieve chest congestion, talk to your healthcare provider.

A pharmacist is an excellent resource for this as well, especially when you're shopping for products.

Remember that you don't have to just wait until your chest congestion clears up. A few simple things can bring a lot of relief.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you drink milk with a chest cold?

    It depends. It's often recommended to avoid milk when you have a cold. Unless you have a dairy allergy, though, it is unclear if milk creates more phlegm. Drinking milk or milk substitutes (like soy or almond milk) will coat the mucus in the mouth and throat, making it more pronounced. 

  • What should you drink when you have a chest cold?

    It is important to stay hydrated when you have a cold. Hydration helps thin mucus and makes it easier to expel. Stick with clear liquids: water, no-sugar-added juices, iced tea, hot tea, or broth. 

  • What essential oils help with chest congestion?

    For a cough:

    • Eucalyptus
    • Geranium
    • Bergamot
    • Lavender
    • Frankincense

    For congestion:

    • Rosemary
    • Eucalyptus
    • Sandalwood
    • Hyssop
    • Thyme 

    Essential oils can be diffused and inhaled or diluted with a carrier oil and applied to the skin.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Cleveland Clinic. Positions to reduce shortness of breath.

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  10. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: Treating acute sinusitis.

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By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.