What is Chest Congestion?
Chest congestion occurs when the linings of your mucous membranes become clogged with a thick mucus, causing you to lose your breath, wheeze or cough up mucus. Chest congestion usually comes with respiratory tract infections that can develop after a cold, or possibly bronchitis. Allergens, air pollutants, or in some cases, pneumonia, can also be causes of chest congestion.
Depending on the length of time you’ve had chest congestion, you may want to treat the cough with over the counter options or contact a doctor. If it’s been less than three weeks, and your symptoms haven't worsened, sticking with over-the-counter medication, rest and nutritious foods may be best.
Over-the-Counter Medication for Chest Congestion
There are two basic types of over the counter cough medicines that you may have hiding out in your medicine cabinet: suppressants and expectorants. While expectorants are best suited for dealing with mucus, suppressants may help you to sleep.
A common suppressant is dextromethorphan, which you can find in OTC meds containing the label “DM". Suppressants are best for dry coughs, and work by blocking the reflex that causes you to cough. A suppressant alone will keep you from coughing constantly, but it won’t help break up your mucus.
Coughing up mucus, however annoying it may be, helps to keep your lungs clear of invaders. Mucus traps the germs, bacteria, viruses and other particles that you breathe in. Cilia, the tiny hairs on your mucous membranes, move mucus towards the throat where it’s ready to be coughed up. Suppressing this reflex will not allow your body to get rid of foreign particles. In fact, it may even be harmful if you’re a smoker or have asthma. Many doctors only recommend taking a suppressant if your cough reflex is so aggressive that you are unable to sleep at night.
The second type of chest congestion medication, expectorants, can be found over the counter as guaifenesin. Guaifenesin is in brand name medications such as Mucinex or Robitussin Chest Congestion.
These medications loosen up mucus and thin it out, making it less likely to clog up your passageways. Most importantly, these medications make your mucus easier to cough up, allowing the harmful germs and particles to leave your body while also allowing you to breathe more easily.
Depending on the nature of your cough, you may want a combination medication that has both a suppressant (dextromethorphan) and an expectorant (guaifenesin). In that case, try Mucinex DM or Robitussin DM.
If your cough has not shown signs of improvement in three weeks, or if your symptoms come with a fever and are too intense for you to breathe normally, contact a doctor.
They will be able to treat your congestion or determine if something more serious is going on. They can also prescribe powerful anti-inflammatory medication to calm the inflammation that is causing your air passages to swell and constrict air flow.
PlushCare doctors are available 24/7 to treat chest congestion, cough and respiratory tract infections. Appointments last an average of 15 minutes, and you can call or schedule them online. Talk to a doctor today to diagnose your chest congestion and discover which medication is best for you. If you qualify for a prescription a PlushCare doctor can electronically send one to a pharmacy of your choice.