What are the reasons for chest congestion, and how to treat it?
Posted Feb 24 2013 10:42am
Chest congestion is a health issue where the lungs have been congested with mucus and fluids, and the person affected is experiencing difficulty breathing, coughing, chest pains, and in the more serious cases a crackling sound from the chest.
The mucus in the chest is important for the proper lining of the walls of the human respiratory system. It contains immunoglobins and enzymes with an antiseptic function, which help the lungs and airways from infections, irritants, blockage or congestion of the bronchi.
Chest congestion occurs when there is an overproduction of the chest mucus or sinus mucus, because the body is trying to fight off an infection or other irritation. The overproduced mucus along with the bacteria, viruses and dead cells are removed from the organism through coughing. Coughing up mucus and phlegm is a sign that the body is protecting itself, trying to clear itself out or fighting an illness.
Causes for chest congestion
The most common causes for chest congestion include: bronchitis, pneumonia and post-nasal drip.
Bronchitis can be caused by a cold or a virus, and is an inflammation of the bronchial tube lining, and causes chest congestion and the extraction of green sputum when coughing. This medical condition is treated with antibiotics if it is bacterial or other forms of treatment when it is caused by a virus.
Pneumonia, another leading cause of chest congestion is an inflammation of the lungs, which can be caused by bacteria, a virus or fungi. Apart from the chest congestion, a person with pneumonia will experience a fever, coughing and chest pain. Again, if it is caused by bacteria, it is treated with antibiotics, and if it is a fungal infection – anti-fungal medication is used for its treatment. Pneumonia caused by a virus will be treated with other types of medication.
Post-nasal drip often causes chest congestion. The lungs become congested as a result of the mucus from the sinuses which actually drips down through the throat into the airways. Post-nasal drip can be resolved through the use of expectorants, which make the mucus thinner and thus can be coughed up. In many cases, the mucus in the sinuses is caused by allergies, so taking the appropriate allergy medication will resolve the problem and will prevent the mucus to congest the lungs. Other common causes for post-nasal drip are: smoking and other irritants, some dairy products, dry air, as well as common cold, flu and even pregnancy. Post-nasal drip is often a sign of gastroesophageal acid reflux, when the body over produces mucus to protect the esophagus and throat from the stomach acid returning to them, which can also lead to increased chest mucus and congestion.
It is important to seek medical attention if you have chest congestion, so that the proper treatment is prescribed to alleviate the condition and cure the underlying cause for the congestion. When taking syrups and other cough medicines, you will need to take expectorants, which are made for thinning the mucus, and making it easier to cough up, as opposed to suppressant products, which are for dry coughs.
In case, the blood tests show a lower oxygen level in the blood, a person with chest congestion is likely to be hospitalized, in other cases, patients are sent home and medicine is prescribed. In some cases of chest congestion, especially those caused by pneumonia the patient will be given an inhaler to alleviate the breathing.
Some tips for treating chest congestion, apart from the medicine prescribed by the doctors, include drinking a lot of water and other fluids to thin the mucus and help stay hydrated while recovering. Another tip to help alleviate chest congestion is to use a humidifier with cool mist – this too will help the mucus thin and be easily coughed up. To be able to sleep better when your chest is congested, it is recommended you sleep propped up, so that the airways stay open and breathing is easier, and so that the mucus doesn’t accumulate in the back of the lungs.
When diagnosing the reasons for chest congestion, the doctors will usually perform a physical exam, listen to the breathing, and send you for blood tests or an X-ray. The color and texture of the mucus expelled through coughing can also be indicative of the underlying cause for chest congestion – in case it is yellowish or green this probably means that there is some kind of infection, in cases there is blood in it, the reason can be more serious – such as pneumonia or tuberculosis for example. If your mucus is brownish, and you are a smoker, then it is a sign that the body is trying to rid itself from the toxins.
In any case, if you are experiencing chest congestion, it is a good idea to visit the doctor to take measures to alleviate your breathing and overall condition by treating the causes and managing the mucus expectoration.