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Jillian Stenzel

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About Author — A Nevada-bred traveler & food nerd who dances & eats spinach, sometimes simultaneously. She writes from wherever her curiosity demands, and is passionate about spreading the wisdom of better health.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

Chest congestion can feel like you’re being suffocated. If you’re coughing up mucus or having trouble breathing, these are signs of chest congestion that are most likely due to a respiratory tract infection. For fast relief, try some of these at home methods, and learn which congestion medications can help.

1. Get steamy!

Warmth and moisture work together to loosen up congestion in the chest. Hovering your face over a steaming pot of water will work to quickly break up the mucus. If that’s not fast enough, try letting your shower steam up the bathroom before you hop in. Make sure to leave the fan off when you shower to not break up steam!

2. Eucalyptus Oil or Vapor Rub

An over-the-counter vapor rub such as Vicks can provide immediate relief when massaged onto your chest. Eucalyptus oil, one of Vicks’ active ingredients, is particularly helpful. Paired with hot water, eucalyptus oil can double your phlegm fighting force! Not only is it antiviral (most chest coughs are viral infections), but it relieves your cough and loosens up mucus.

Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to a tablespoon or two of a carrier oil, such as coconut or olive oil, and massage it onto your chest for a DIY vapor rub. Alternatively, putting a few drops into a steaming pot of water can allow you to inhale its congestion-combative properties for quick relief in the air passages.

For relief throughout the night, sleep next to a humidifier with eucalyptus oil. Add 4-5 drops into the reservoir of your humidifier just before going to bed. Make sure to have the humidifier close to you, and keep your bedroom door closed to trap in the moisture.


3. Hot Lemon Water

Staying hydrated is critical if you’re congested, as fluids help to keep mucus thin. In fact, some doctors say that simply drinking water is the best way to get rid of mucus. By heating your water and adding lemon, the heat will break up congestion quickly while the high vitamin C content of the lemon will help your body fight off  infection.

The juice of roughly one large lemon provides you with 31% of your daily recommended value of vitamin C! Try having a glass of hot lemon water with the juice of one lemon three times a day.

If lemon water isn’t your thing, try squeezing lemon over steamed broccoli, another incredibly rich source of vitamin C. Eating the right foods will supercharge the immune system and help your body fight off that persistent cough. Pro tip: Pressure cooking broccoli will preserve 90% of its vitamin C content!

Over the Counter Medication

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.


Suppressants suppress your cough reflex so you can get some rest. They do not help reduce congestion or thin mucus. They are good for relief at night when a cough is keeping you up. A common suppressant is dextromethorphan, which you can find in over-the-counter meds containing the label “DM”.


Expectorants thin mucus making it easier to cough up and clear out your lungs. They are great because they speed up the mucus clearing process and allow you to get rid of the congestion that’s bringing you down. Guaifenesin is in brand name medications such as Mucinex or Robitussin Chest Congestion.

If you have a fever, intense shortness of breath, wheezing when you breathe, or if your cough lasts for more than two weeks, contact a doctor. You may have a chronic infection and need to be treated with prescription anti-inflammatory medication to treat the swelling of your airways.

PlushCare doctors are available around the clock to treat a chest cough or respiratory tract infection. Schedule an appointment with a top-trained PlushCare physician online or by phone. During your online appointment you will discuss your symptoms and medical history. The doctor will give you an official diagnosis and treatment plan, including prescriptions when necessary.

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