Lung congestion, also known as chest congestion, gets the best of everyone at some point. We are all familiar with phlegmy coughs and labored breathing and we all hope to avoid it. But unfortunately for some, lung congestion will strike and it’s important you know the causes, symptoms and treatment methods so you can feel your best again.
Lung Congestion Causes and Symptoms
There are many causes of lung congestion, so many in fact that it is nearly impossible to name them all.
Most commonly however, lung congestion is a symptom of an upper respiratory infection.
When your trachea (windpipe) and/or lungs get infected with harmful bacteria or viruses your body produces more mucus to trap and fight off these invaders.
As a result your lungs and sometimes nose are left filled with excess mucus that you cough up, this is called a productive cough, it is the main symptom of lung congestion.
Not all lung congestion is serious, sometimes you just have a cold or allergies and excess mucus drains from your nose into your lungs causing a cough.
Other times lung congestion can be indicative of bronchitis or pneumonia. If left untreated, bronchitis can spread from the bronchial tubes into the lungs progressing into pneumonia.
If pneumonia is left untreated the lungs can fill with fluid and cause serious health risks, including death. It is very important to see a doctor if you think you have bronchitis or pneumonia to prevent the infection from worsening.
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical attention if:
- If you are suffering from lung congestion for more than one week
- Your lung congestion gets progressively worse
- You have trouble breathing
- You are wheezing
- Your congestion prevents you from sleeping
- You are coughing up blood
- You have a fever over 100° F
Lung Congestion Treatments
Luckily there are many things you can do at home, medications you can get over-the-counter and prescription medications from doctors to help cure your lung congestion.
At Home Treatments For Lung Congestion
- Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated helps thin mucus and makes it easier to cough up than thick sticky mucus.
- Taking hot showers and baths. The steam from the hot water helps thin mucus from the outside in and makes it easier to cough.
- Rest. Getting plenty of sleep and avoiding stress helps your body focus on fighting the bacteria or virus that is causing your lung congestion.
Over the Counter Medications for Lung Congestion
There are many over-the-counter medications that you can get at drug stores and pharmacies without a prescription. There are lots of options but they all help thin and reduce congestion.
- dextromethorphan (brand names: Triaminic Cold and Cough, Robitussin Cough, Vicks, etc)
- guaifenesin (brand names: Mucinex, Robitussin)
Be sure to check with a doctor before taking over-the-counter medications to ensure they do not interfere with other medication you may be taking.
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Prescription Medications For Lung Congestion
If you have a bacterial infection causing your lung congestion such as bacterial bronchitis or pneumonia you will need to talk to a doctor to get an antibiotic prescription. Antibiotics fight off the harmful bacteria that cause lung congestion, and you may not get better without one so be sure to seek medical attention.
If the cause of your lung congestion is viral you will be prescribed an antiviral medication.
Just Lung Congestion or Something Worse?
Lung congestion can also be a symptom of something bigger than an upper respiratory infection. Some diseases and conditions cause increased respiratory infections or directly impact the lungs themselves.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious disease that causes lung congestion. This disease causes the airways and lungs to become irritated and inflamed making it harder to breathe. Shortness of breath only worsens with time. Smoking is the number one cause of COPD.
Pneumonia as mentioned above can be very serious especially for the elderly and those younger than 2 years of age. Pneumonia is a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection of the tiny air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. When these become infected not only is it harder to breathe but excess mucus production leads to lung congestion. If left untreated pneumonia can be deadly so it is crucial to see a doctor to get an official diagnosis and treatment.
Book an appointment with a PlushCare doctor today to find out what is causing your lung congestion and the best treatment methods for you.