Chest congestion relief comes in many forms. Some congestion-relieving substances are taken orally, some are inhaled, whereas others are rubbed into the chest. While chest congestion in itself is not necessarily harmful, it is almost always irritating and can at times be downright uncomfortable. If left untreated however, it can at times create health issues that are harmful. It is not all that uncommon and is in fact quite common among children and infants. There are many causes, but fortunately, there are many remedies as well. The trick is to find a means of chest congestion relief that works without causing unpleasant or dangerous side effects.
To a degree, chest congestion could be regarded as a good thing. What is happening is that mucosa cells, which are located in the mucous membrane lining your airways, have in some way become either irritated or infected. There are many ways in which that can happen, but in most cases the irritation has been caused by particles that have been inhaled, by bacteria, or by a virus. You always have a certain amount of mucus in your airways, but when the mucous membranes become irritated, extra mucus is produced. This extra mucus is thicker than normal and has been produced for the purpose of flushing out whatever is causing the irritation. In that sense, the extra mucus is a good thing.
When you either swallow or cough up this extra mucus, you are ridding yourself of the cause of the irritant, or at least that is the hope. If the irritation is due to particles that have been inhaled, coughing up the excess mucus may often be all that is needed. If the irritation is due to a bacterial or viral infection, removing the excess mucus will in most cases simply cause more mucus to be produced.
When you're experiencing the congestion, it's more than just mucus in your throat that's involved. The congestion is the result of the mucus working its way down into the lungs, thereby making breathing more difficult while at the same time creating pressure within the chest. Coughing up thick mucus which is lodged deep in the lungs is not always easy, which is where congestion relief medications or procedures come into play. The first thing you will usually need at this point is something that will thin the mucus, making it easier to get rid of.
By far, the simplest remedy is water. Staying hydrated makes it easier for the body to thin the mucus that's clogging your airways on its own accord. When you drink water, it will also dislodge excess mucus that has collected in your throat, though it will not directly affect the mucus that's trapped in your airways. Still, staying hydrated does help, and being dehydrated is a hindrance. Another simple remedy is steam, which will act directly on the airways. When steam fails to do the trick, the next step is usually to take an oral expectorant to help rid your airways of the excess mucus.
How Expectorants and Suppressants Can Help
The drug most commonly used as an expectorant is guaifenesin. Guaifenesin works directly to thin and loosen mucus in the airways, clearing them, and therefore making breathing easier. Another drug, dextromethorphan, acts as a cough suppressant. While an expectorant deals directly with the mucus, and clears the airways, a suppressant acts on the brain, telling the brain in effect to resist the urge to cough. Many, if not most, cough and cold medicines contain both an expectorant and a cough suppressant. As you may be aware, most cough medicines treat the symptoms only, and congestion in the chest is generally a symptom of something else. Cough medicines do not necessarily cure what caused the congestion in the first place. What that means is that both of these drugs, whether used in combination or not, usually provide only temporary relief.
Facts About Guaifenesin
Guaifenesin is available both as an over-the-counter medication and as a prescription medication. It comes under a number of different brand names, the most commonly known being Robitussin. It is generally safe to use except it should not be given to children 2 years of age or under, unless specifically prescribed by a doctor. It is usually advised to drink plenty of water while taking guaifenesin as that will tend to speed up the loosening of mucus. There are two common types of dosages; lower dosages for quick relief, and higher dosages for long-acting relief. Side effects tend to be rare, but if they are present and persistent it would be best to cease using the medication and seek medical advice.
Facts About Dextromethorphan
Like guaifenesin, dextromethorphan is available both by prescription and as an over-the-counter medicine. Robitussin also contains dextromethorphan, as does St. Joseph Cough Medicine and Vicks 44 Cough Relief. While effective as a suppressant, it is considered inadvisable to use this drug when your congestion is particularly heavy, or if your coughing has become chronic. Dextromethorphan is available in tables, capsule, and liquid oral forms. There are a number of medications that can interact with dextromethorphan. If you are on other medications it would be best to check with the pharmacist, as the list is a fairly long one. As far as dosages are concerned, follow the directions on the box or bottle, being careful not to overdose.
When to Avoid Taking a Suppressant
While taking an expectorant/suppressant combination may seem to be an ideal solution, it may not in all cases be advisable. While you certainly want to be taking an expectorant to break up the secretion produced by the mucous membranes, you may want to avoid taking a suppressant unless your coughing has become a real problem. The reason for this is that a suppressant will sometimes thicken the secretion that is in your chest. It may be relieving your cough, but may also be making the congestion worse. If you're taking a combination of the two and your congestion doesn't appear to be lessening, it may be advisable to stop taking a suppressant, and putting up with your cough if need be.
What to Avoid When Experiencing Chest Congestion
Smoking is obviously something to be avoided when you have chest congestion, as it will only make matters worse. Certain foods will also increase mucus production. While none of these foods are a problem in the absence of congestion in the chest, dairy products, fried foods, and foods high in salt and sugar will often make a bad case of congestion even worse. On the other hand, spicy foods, citrus foods, and garlic can be helpful. Asparagus is considered by some to be an excellent home remedy for relieving the congestion. The same can be said for pineapple.
Another thing to avoid is an antihistamine, which is present in some cough and cold medicines. While antihistamines have their uses, relieving the congestion isn't one of them. If you have a productive cough, you’re coughing up and eliminating excess mucus. If you take an antihistamine however, it will tend to dry up the secretion. This is not a good solution. The mucus is still there and can still cause congestion, but it has become more difficult to get rid of.
Gargling Will Often Provide Relief
Gargling, while normally thought of as a good sore throat remedy, tends to be ignored as a way of clearing up the congestion. Gargling can help however, especially when salt and a pinch of turmeric is added to warm water. Gargling with this solution several times a day should prove helpful.
Topical Creams and Rubs
A menthol rub may feel good although it will usually not accomplish much as far as actually breaking up mucus is concerned. Nevertheless, it will still tend to open up your airways; something menthol is very good at. Whereas a menthol lozenge will normally offer temporary relief, a menthol chest or throat rub, especially at bedtime, can provide long-lasting relief.
What Yoga Can Do For You
If you've just come down with a bad case of chest congestion, signing up for yoga instruction isn't going to give you instant relief. If you're already into yoga however, you may find it best to keep up with the practice, even if you don't particularly feel up to the task. Not only will maintaining the proper breathing methods you learn in yoga be helpful, but there are also certain poses that not only help open up your air passages, but help drain out excess mucus as well. Just lying on the floor or mat for 10 or 15 minutes with your head slightly elevated on a pillow can often provide a measure of relief. As far as keeping your head elevated is concerned, sleeping on your back with an extra pillow placed under your head should also provide some relief.
Teas and Herbal Medications
There are a number of home remedies, including teas and herbal medications. Some of these remedies work, while others may not be of much help to you. You want to be careful taking herbal medications if you are on any other medication, unless you know for certain there will be no unpleasant side effects. A warm cup of tea can definitely help, or will at least can make you feel better, which can also be helpful in speeding your recovery.
Going At the Chest Congestion Problem from All Directions
There's no rule that says you have to stick to one and only one method of treatment. You can take a decongestant, take a suppressant, take a combination of the two, inhale some steam, eat some pineapple, and work on a couple of yoga poses, all within a single day, or for that matter within a couple of hours. There's not much of a chance of experiencing any harmful interactions either, although if a medication leaves you with a drowsy feeling, you should probably back off a bit.
Giving Younger Children and Infants Chest Congestion Relief
Generally, it's not considered safe to give young children and infants over-the-counter expectorants or suppressants, just as it's not safe to give them aspirin. The use of inhalers and chest rubs on the other hand are quite often recommended, as are non-sweetened fruit juices, or other liquids. It's always best to consult with a doctor whenever an infant is experiencing a moderate to severe case of congestion. Insofar as the over-the-counter medications are concerned, it is generally recommended that they are not given to children age 6 and under, and such medication should never be given to toddlers or infants. The best approach when attempting to relieve congestion in very young people is to use a home remedy that is known to be safe. An effective home remedy for a toddler or infant might consist of nothing more than tapping the child lightly on the back, which can loosen the mucus. Note the emphasis is on the words tapping and lightly. If this is done in a steamy area, such as when a shower head is turned on or when an inhaler is working, back tapping can be even more effective.
Toddlers should also be encouraged to take in more liquids. Water is best of course, while milk and liquids containing sugar should be avoided as they tend to produce even more mucus. Propping an infant in an upright position as much as possible during the daytime hours will also be beneficial, as will keeping the child's head in a slightly raised position with respect to its abdomen while it is sleeping. Warmth and humid air also help to relieve congestion.
As irritating as the congestion can be, an effective remedy is usually not far away, and may be no farther away than the nearest water tap. Most expectorants tend to provide fast, though often temporary relief, and there are various home remedies that can also be quite effective. If your congestion appears to be resulting from a disease or disorder, it's always best to see a doctor, and not rely on relief medicines to provide a cure.