Breaking Up Lung Congestion
Everyone experiences lung congestion periodically, but people with chronic lung diseases and respiratory illnesses often struggle with mucus buildup in their respiratory systems. Some mucus in your airways is helpful, protecting your lungs from irritants and keeping your tissues moist. However, excess mucus and lung congestion are uncomfortable and impact proper breathing. This is especially problematic for people who already have breathing difficulties. Thankfully, there are things you can do to break up lung congestion.
Home Remedies to Treat Congestion
Home remedies for breaking up lung congestion involve simple solutions you have around your home. If you know that you struggle with lung congestion, keep the supplies needed for the following treatments on hand so you are ready whenever you need to break up mucus in your respiratory system.
- Steam Treatment: Steam helps loosen and break up mucus in your respiratory system, allowing you to cough it up properly. Use a humidifier or take a steamy shower (or run a hot shower with the bathroom door shut) to help break up your lung congestion. The shower offers the extra benefit of warmth, which can help open your airways, too. (Note: The shower may not be effective if you have asthma.)
- Essential Oils: Certain essential oils can help alleviate chest congestion, and some studies show they may even offer antibacterial benefits to help combat respiratory infections. Thyme, clove and cinnamon bark oils all showed promising antibacterial activity, while camphor, menthol and eucalyptus can ease the discomfort associated with chest congestion and coughing.
- Honey: Honey has been shown to be quite effective in helping to calm and soothe a cough, but it also appears to have antiviral and antibacterial benefits, according to one study. Take one tablespoon of honey every 3-4 hours, or try mixing your own remedy.
Medications for Lung Congestion
Home remedies are a good first step, but sometimes medication is required to break up lung congestion. The following medications are often used to help with respiratory mucus build up. However, talk to your doctor before using even over-the-counter medications, as your provider may not recommend them for you.
- Decongestants: Decongestants constrict blood vessels in your airway, reducing swelling to allow you to breathe easier. This improves airflow, which helps dry your mucus up, reducing the amount of lung congestion you experience.
- Expectorants: Expectorants help loosen and break up mucus in your lungs, allowing you to cough it up more effectively. This makes your coughs more productive and may mean that you cough less frequently, which helps minimize discomfort.
Coughing Techniques and Breathing Exercises to Clear Mucus and Improve Breathing
Lung congestion makes getting a full breath difficult, and struggling to get enough oxygen can cause you to breathe ineffectively. This is uncomfortable and causes anxiety, making breathing properly harder. The following coughing techniques can help you break up and clear mucus properly, while the breathing exercises can help you breathe more comfortably and efficiently.
- The Huff-Cough Technique: This technique helps you cough without exhausting yourself or hurting your throat. Sit with your chin tilted slightly up and breathe deeply into your diaphragm with your mouth open. Breathe normally, then hold a final breath for 2-3 seconds. Tighten your abdominal and chest muscles, then exhale forcefully but slowly through your open mouth, making a “huff” sound. Repeat this process twice, following with a single strong cough to fully clear mucus in your larger airways. Repeat the full cycle 4-5 times to fully clear your airways.
- Deep Controlled Coughing: This technique helps you produce a deep, strong and productive cough. Begin by sitting upright in a chair with your feet on the ground. Take a few deep breaths and relax your body. Place the fist of your dominant hand just under your ribcage and wrap your non-dominant hand around your fist. Inhale deeply through your nose while pushing your belly outward and hold your breath for 3 seconds. Exhale slowly while leaning forward and, with your mouth partially open, cough short and sharp 2-3 times while pushing inward on your abdomen with your fist. Keep your elbows pointing straight out and feel for your diaphragm moving upward when you cough. Inhale again slowly through your nose, sniffing to prevent mucus from draining back into your lungs. Spit any mucus you cough up into a tissue.
- Pursed-Lip Breathing: Pursed-lip breathing helps you breathe more effectively, especially when you are experiencing breathing difficulties. Start by sitting comfortably and relaxing your neck and shoulder muscles. With your mouth closed, inhale a regular breath slowly through your nose for two counts. Before exhaling, purse your lips as though blowing out a candle, then exhale slowly through pursed lips while counting to four. Repeat until breathlessness is under control.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing: This breathing technique helps you combat inefficient breathing habits. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and a pillow under your knees. Place one hand on your abdomen below your waist and the other hand on your chest. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose while gently pushing your abdomen out. Keep your neck, shoulder, chest and rib muscles still. Exhale slowly through pursed lips while gently pushing inward and upward on your abdomen to empty your lungs. Repeat for 5-10 minutes.
Basic Advice to Help with Breaking Up Lung Congestion
In order to help break up your lung congestion effectively, follow a few healthy practices.
- Stay hydrated: This helps ensure your mucus does not become too thick or sticky to cough up. Drink plenty of water and other uncaffeinated liquids to help keep your mucus loose.
- Continue moderate exercise when possible: Though it may surprise you, exercise helps loosen up the mucus in your lungs, making it easier to cough up properly. Just listen to your body—do not push it.
Lung congestion can be frustrating to deal with; however, with practice, patience and careful techniques, you can become an expert at breaking up lung congestion. If you experience increased lung congestion that does not resolve, contact your doctor.