What is Chest Congestion? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Somehow, you managed to pick up the bug that was going around the office last week, or maybe it was the one your 8-year-old brought home from school that took you down. Now, after a few days, what started out as a sore throat and stuffy nose has turned into an uncomfortable cough that may bring up thick mucus from your lower airways. Your cough sounds deeper. These are some of the signs and symptoms of chest congestion. DayQuil SEVERE LiquiCaps™ can relieve your chest congestion related to a cold or the flu—but understanding what causes chest congestion and how to prevent it are equally as important as treating the symptom.

It can take up to a month to fully recover from lingering cold or flu symptoms, such as cough.1

What is Chest Congestion?

Chest congestion is the accumulation of mucus in the lungs and lower breathing tubes (bronchi). It is usually accompanied by a wet, productive cough that brings up thick mucus. Chest congestion may cause you to hear or feel wheezing or crackling sounds when you breathe in and out.

What Causes Chest Congestion?

Infection with a cold or flu virus is among the most common causes of chest congestion and happens when the infection progresses from the upper respiratory tract – your nasal passages, sinuses and throat–into the lower respiratory tract–your breathing tubes (bronchi) and lungs.

Your body tries to remove pathogens by generating mucus, to trap them and prevent them from reaching the cells that line your lungs and airways. Then, the sweeping action of tiny hair-like particles that line your lower respiratory tract, called cilia, helps move the mucus, along with the irritant, up and out of your lungs and breathing passages. The presence of the mucus also triggers nerve sensors that make you cough, which further helps removal of the excess mucus—a wet, chesty cough.

If your chest congestion started from a cold, it may be accompanied by stuffy nose, sore throat, and sneezing. If you have the flu, your chest congestion may be accompanied by typical flu symptoms, such as headache, body aches, fatigue, and a fever, which usually resolves after the first 3-4 days and may precede the cough.2

Chest Congestion Treatment

Vicks products cannot cure the cold or flu, but they can help relieve chest congestion symptoms so you can feel better while your body heals from the cold or flu virus. When you have chest congestion symptoms, the mucus build-up in your lungs can become very thick and dense. As a result, it can be difficult to get it out of your lungs through coughing. Expectorants, like guaifenesin, break up chest congestion by thinning mucus and making it easier to cough up and out.

Chest congestion due to cold or flu may come with both wet chesty coughs to remove mucus, as well as a dry, non-productive coughs; this is why some cold and flu medicines contain an expectorant to thin mucus of wet coughs, as well as a cough suppressant to reduce dry coughs due to a hypersensitive airway.


DayQuil SEVERE has maximum symptom-fighting ingredients—like guaifenesin—to relieve your worst cold symptoms. Aside from chest congestion, DayQuil SEVERE also reduces fever and minor aches and pains, and relieves nasal congestion, sinus pressure, and cough. It also comes in LiquiCaps™ form.

Sinex LiquiCaps™

Sometimes, the cold or flu may come with more sinus-related symptoms along with your chest congestion, like sinus pressure, headache, and pain. Sinex SEVERE All-in-One Sinus + Mucus LiquiCaps™ have the guaifenesin that relieves chest congestion, plus acetaminophen (a pain reliever/fever reducer), and phenylephrine HCI (a nasal decongestant).

How to Prevent Catching and Spreading the Viruses that Cause Chest Congestion

The first step to avoiding chest congestion is to prevent the colds and flus that lead to it, and the best way to do that is to build and maintain your immune system.

  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods contain essential vitamins and minerals your immune system requires to stay in top fighting shape for fending off colds and flu.
  • Get 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep each night. Sleep is when your body restores and repairs from the day that was and prepares for the day ahead.4
  • Exercise your lungs. Cardiovascular exercise tones your breathing muscles, expands your lung capacity, and support your immune function.5 The American Lung Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity, such as brisk walking, cycling, gardening, or vigorous housecleaning 5 days a week.6 Also, it’s a great way to…
  • Reduce your stress.7 Simply being told that you need to reduce stress can be a source of stress, right? We agree. So, why not use step 4, a healthy exercise program, to help check this item off your immune self-care list?

Along with supporting your immune system, the best way to avoid getting chest congestion is to avoid putting your immune system to the test by decreasing your exposure to cold and flu germs.

The following simple hygiene practices can reduce your chances of being exposed and exposing those around you to a cold or flu. It’s important to keep in mind that your infection may be contagious (able to be transmitted to others) both before and after symptoms appear.8

  • Wash Your Hands: Colds and flu are transmitted by close person-to-person contact and by touching surfaces that an infected person has come into contact with then transfering the germs to your body by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You can minimize your exposure to germs by washing your hands frequently throughout the day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.9 If you don’t have access to soap and water the next best thing is to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Physical Distancing: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from other people as one of the best ways to slow the spread of respiratory disease.9
  • Avoid Touching Your Face: Particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth, which contain easy-access points for viruses to gain entry to your body. It’s worth the effort, and with practice, it may become second nature.
  • Cover Your Cough: Germs spread easily in the air through coughing. To help contain germs from your cough, cough into a tissue or into your elbow, but not into your hands where they can spread through touch.
  • Avoid Sharing Utensils and Cups: That goes for eating utensils, drinking glasses, and water bottles, as well as personal care items such as lip balm, cosmetics, etc.
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