Reviewed by: Dr. Dipa Rani
Chest congestion happens when mucus accumulates in your lungs and bronchi. This can lead to a productive cough, which means a person throws up mucus while coughing. You might experience a crackle or wheezing sound while breathing in these cases. Chest congestion could also be a symptom of underlying infections such as acute bronchitis. It may also be a symptom that you are suffering from chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Understanding chest congestion
The main difference between chest congestion and other respiratory issues is the feeling of tightness or heaviness you have around your chest. This is a typical condition and happens because your airways are full of too much mucus. In the case of common colds, the symptoms are more nasal than anything else, but chest congestion always attacks your chest and causes symptoms like coughing, difficulty in breathing, and wheezing, to name a few. It happens commonly because of respiratory allergies or underlying conditions such as bronchitis and asthma. Here, congestion might be accompanied by various other respiratory ailments, but the focus area is always your chest.
The discomfort that the condition brings is the primary way of differentiating it.
Common causes of chest congestion
Some acute infections are known to cause chest congestion, with the first being chest cold. You can also get this when you are suffering from acute bronchitis. This often begins as a dry cough that changes to a productive cough where the mucus also changes its color – it becomes yellowish-green from being white in the initial stages. Flu can also cause your chest to be congested. Certain chronic conditions are also supposed to be common causes of excessive mucus in your lungs and chest congestion. Some such conditions are:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases(COPD) like emphysema and chronic bronchitis
- Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) disease
- Cystic fibrosis
Usually, doctors and health experts say that the most common reason people get a congested chest is the same virus that causes flu and cold. Your chest gets congested when the infection progresses to the lower respiratory tract containing your lungs and breathing tubes or bronchi from the upper respiratory tract that houses your nasal passages, throat, and sinuses. Mucus is your body’s way of removing these pathogens from itself. This way, it aims to trap and stop them from reaching the cells lining your airways and lungs.
Recognizing symptoms of chest congestion
As mentioned above, chest congestion can be a symptom of you suffering from an underlying condition that could be chronic or acute. There are normally some symptoms associated with this. Acute infections that lead to chest congestion could also cause the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Stuffy nose
- Chest discomfort
Usually, you also find it hard to breathe, and your body expels green or yellow phlegm.
There are certain situations where you must see a doctor. The first of these is when your fever exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You must also get checked when you have suffered from the cold for over three weeks and if you are coughing up blood. You can also think of availing of emergency care if you are having trouble breathing, experiencing extreme chest pain, or have symptoms akin to flu, which keeps coming back.
Chest congestion – Diagnosis and medical assessment
If you want to get a diagnosis in this case, you must visit a healthcare facility. In this case, the process will depend on what the doctor considers to be the cause of your chest congestion. The medical professional will review your symptoms and overall medical history to give an accurate diagnosis. Only when they do so can a doctor understand why you are suffering from chest congestion. As part of the evaluation, they will also listen to the sound in your lungs.
The doctor might also ask you to get additional tests, such as a blood test or an x-ray, depending on what they consider to be the cause of your chest congestion.
Effective treatments for chest congestion
The treatment that is used for your chest congestion depends on the underlying reason why you are suffering from the same. In some acute infections, such as chest colds, you may not need any special treatment as such. In these cases, you can easily cure yourself at home with home remedies and over-the-counter medicines such as an expectorant like guaifenesin. If your symptoms are still there after three weeks, you are coughing up blood, and your fever is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you should get checked by a doctor.
In some cases, the flu might become severe, resulting in complications. There are certain situations where you must see a doctor when you have flu, such as:
- Breathing trouble
- Flu-like symptoms that first improve and then come back worse with a worse cough and fever
- Shortness of breath
- Pressure or pain in your chest
If you have a chronic underlying condition, you must talk to your physician about the treatment options available in these cases. In such cases, doctors might recommend a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.
If you have a severe case of chest congestion, your doctor could advise you oxygen therapy or corticosteroids as a necessary form of treatment. In some cases, you may also need chest physiotherapy since it helps clear the mucus and aids in your recovery. They may also have to conduct surgery in cases of chronic and severe chest congestion. In mild cases, they prescribe expectorants for loosening your mucus, antibiotics for viral infections, and bronchodilators for easy breathing. You have to ensure that you seek medical help as early as possible.
So, here we have talked about chest congestion, how it is different from other respiratory ailments that could affect you, the common symptoms, the various ways to diagnose it, and the best ways to treat the same. Just make sure that you keep these in mind. Also, seek out your doctor as soon as you can, probably as and when the issue manifests. This way, you can get a treatment that works the best for you, nip the ailment in the bud, and ensure that things do not get any worse than they already are.
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