Chest congestion is commonly described as a feeling of tightness in the chest. Accumulation of excess mucus and fluid in the lungs is commonly known as chest congestion. It can occur in individuals of any age. The symptoms can vary from being mild and insignificant to those that can cause severe discomfort. However, chest congestion in the young, elderly, and the ailing should be provided immediate medical attention. The causes are just as varied as the symptoms. However, sometimes, timely medical intervention can save lives as in case of chest congestion during asthma attacks. Hence, it is important to be able to distinguish the minor symptoms from those that can be fatal.
Signs and Symptoms
Depending upon the cause, symptoms of chest congestion include:
- Coughing: The body tries to throw out the accumulated mucus. Continuous coughing leads to chest pain, lowered appetite and weakness.
- Labored breathing: As excess fluid gets accumulated in the lungs, the person experiences difficulty in breathing. You can often hear the congestion or feel it by placing your palm on the chest.
- Tightness in chest: The patient continuously complains about discomfort, nasal congestion, and stiff chest. Newborn and toddlers often cry continuously and you can notice the restlessness.
- Shortness of breath: Breathing becomes more labored. The patient may try to breathe through mouth. A person struggling to get adequate oxygen feels exhausted.
- Wheezing: Patients with asthma often exhibit this symptom. Peculiar sharp sound during inhalation and exhalation indicates congestion in the chest.
- Excessive mucus: Foul-smelling yellow or green mucus is a common symptom. The color of the mucus changes according to the severity of the infection. Bad breath is another sign.
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis): Excessive coughing may lead to broken blood vessel in the throat. Blood in the cough is also one of the common symptoms of tuberculosis.
- Difficulty in swallowing: Swollen throat can result in difficulty in swallowing. Doctors therefore recommend a liquid diet.
- Difficulty in talking: The person may not be able to talk in a normal way. His/her voice may become hoarse.
- Chest pain: All the above symptoms result in constant chest pain and discomfort.
Sputum or phlegm with cough is a positive sign of congestion in the chest, as with each cough the chest gets cleared. However, sometimes coughing may be dry that will be of no help to the patient but may cause acute chest pain. Sometimes, it may be accompanied with chills and fever. In case there is swelling of the tongue or lips, it may indicate a severe allergic reaction. If the congestion is due to some allergic reaction, an individual should be taken to the hospital immediately.
It is very important to report the symptoms of tightness in the chest to the physician as they can be caused due to different reasons. Accurate reporting of the symptoms will lead to correct diagnosis. A person may notice one or more symptoms of congestion in chest. If congestion caused due to severe cold or flu lasts for more than four days, and if it is followed by symptoms like high fever, shaking chills, skin rash, hemoptysis, and neck stiffness, then you should immediately contact your physician.
The condition may be accompanied by blue lips, nails or tongue. If this is the case, then it indicates that an individual is suffering from low oxygen levels. Chest congestion, chest pain and breathing difficulty are some of the common symptoms of an impending heart attack. This requires urgent care and treatment.
The list of causes is a long one. From common cold and flu to lung cancer, there are a host of ailments that can cause chest congestion. If a feeling of tightness in chest is accompanied with a dry cough and wheezing, one may be suffering from asthma. An infection can also be a cause, and the patient coughs sticky, thick, yellowish or greenish phlegm. Sinusitis can also lead to bottlenecks in the chest. Some other causes include bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, gastroesophageal reflux disease, heart-valve malfunction and pulmonary edema.
Chest congestion treatment depends upon its cause and severity of the symptoms. Simple chest congestion remedies and medicines taken at home can bring relief from symptoms; if they are caused due to minor ailments like cold and flu. Treatment would include the physician knowing the patient's medical history. A patient may have to undergo a medical examination of blood or other body fluids, biopsy, X-ray of the chest, and lung-function tests. Based on the symptoms and the cause, the doctor may prescribe medicines that need to be taken as directed. Besides medical treatment, the following home remedies are effective in bringing relief when the congestion is triggered due to minor causes:
- Increased intake of fluids. If suffering from cold, take fluids that are rich in Vitamin C.
- Inhaling steam with a few drops of eucalyptus oil or peppermint oil.
- Massaging the chest with essential oils or vapor balm.
- Stop smoking. Smoking destroys the health of the lungs.
- Taking prescribed medicines and avoiding contact with infected persons.
- Aromatherapy which involves adding essential oils to a diffuser and inhaling.
- Having a glass of warm milk with a pinch of turmeric powder.
- Placing a hot water bag on the chest. This helps relieve the discomfort caused by tightness in the chest.
- Sipping warm tea that provides relief by loosening up the phlegm that blocks the air passages. Peppermint tea and chamomile tea are most suitable for this purpose.
- Taking adequate rest and performing mild exercises under the guidance of your physician.
- Learning deep breathing techniques like pranayama. This would help strengthen the breathing muscles and improve the immune system functions.
- Changing bad habits and trying to lead a stress free lifestyle.
It is important to take good care of oneself soon after recovering from chest congestion symptoms. It is also important to take enough rest and follow a proper diet, so that the chances of catching the infection once again are reduced.