How do I get out the mucus in my chest?
March 27, 2011 6:16 AM   Subscribe

I am suffering from a bad cold and have a lot of phlegm (mucus) in my chest. However, I am not able to bring it out when I cough. What should I do to get this out quickly?
posted by harigopal to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Mucinex, or any expectorant. Mucinex DM is great, too.
posted by lunalaguna at 6:20 AM on March 27, 2011

Response by poster: The problem is that Mucinex only makes me cough but does not bring out the mucus.
posted by harigopal at 6:23 AM on March 27, 2011

You should drink plenty of fluids. There's no way to "get this out quickly," it takes time.
posted by gramcracker at 6:24 AM on March 27, 2011

Response by poster: My doctor did say that and I am trying to take in plenty of fluids. This has been going on for about five days and I know that it will go away eventually. I am hoping that some of the metafilter community may have other ways (herbs, natural) to expedite this process.
posted by harigopal at 6:28 AM on March 27, 2011

Hot shower with a lot of steam, hot tea or hot water with lemon. But the shower usually does it for me.
posted by telegraph at 6:39 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Vicks shower steamers, if not actually bringing out the mucus, provide AMAZING relief. You feel like you could run a marathon with those things in the shower.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:47 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Humidifier and/or long hot showers will often help the process along. The more steam, the better; you can take a cheap trashy novel in the bathroom with you (pages will get damp) and even just run the humidifier in the little bitty room for an hour so you concentrate the steam. Tea (probably decaf), chicken soup, and other hot beverages will also probably help, as well as keeping you hydrated. Peppermint tea with honey and lemon is a traditional home cough remedy (the menthol in the mint in theory helps open the airways; honey soothes the irritation; lemon reduces swelling), while the heat of the tea will help with the mucus. (Not as effective as a menthol cough drop, but considerably more comforting.)

If there's actually junk in your lungs, some people beat their chests Tarzan-style to break it up, but I think that's mostly more wishful thinking than anything else unless you've got actual pneumonia. Still, it can't really hurt as long as you don't beat yourself black-and-blue and if it makes you feel better, go for it.

I wouldn't mix herbal preparations (beyond peppermint tea, I suppose) with OTC meds without a doctor's approval.

(And OMG, on preview, those Vicks shower steamers are TEH AWESOME.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:51 AM on March 27, 2011

Nthing steaming. I get sinus infections all the time with mucus buildup and steaming is the best remedy. I boil a lot of water, pour it into a bowl, put a towel over my head and the bowl, then try to stay under there for as long as possible. Be careful that you don't burn yourself when the water is just boiled though! Do this a few times a day and you should see a big improvement.
posted by ukdanae at 6:51 AM on March 27, 2011

Agree that it just takes time. But if you are looking for additional herbal assistance: two additional culinary herbs with expectorant properties are fenugreek seeds and/or thyme. Thyme can be found in any grocery store; fenugreek, you may need to search for (probably can be found at any stores that stock Indian ingredients).

1 t. herb to 1 c. boiling water; cover and let steep at least 5-8 minutes. Add honey if you desire.

I wouldn't drink gallons of either of these, but a few cups daily of either or both are unlikely to interact with any other remedies you're taking, and might help the process.
posted by Knicke at 6:58 AM on March 27, 2011

IANAD, and the following information comes from the memory of a child and refers to medical techniques from 40 years ago.

When I was a kid, my mom had bronchitis and she used to lay on the bed with her head on the floor and ask us kids to pound on her back while she coughed. The name for that is Postural Drainage with Percussion. In googling that, I see that there have been studies about the effectiveness of the technique, and some additional techniques such as Autogenic Drainage. Those articles are about cystic fibrosis, so they might very well not apply to your situation at all.
posted by CathyG at 7:27 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've used unsweetened grapefruit juice as an expectorant and it works pretty well if you don't hate the taste of grapefruit juice.

Be aware, though, that grapefruit can interfere with some prescription and OTC meds, if you're taking anything. There's a partial list here.
posted by camyram at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2011

Lots and lots of liquids to thin out the mucus.

Drink hot tea (non-caffeinated), eat hot soup - the heat will increase circulation to the chest. I usually also hold the hot cup to my chest in between sips/gulps but I don't know if that really works (I like it, though).

Steam is a good thing.

I like lemon and ginger tea. Ginger is an excellent anti-inflammatory, but the flavor is not for everyone.
posted by Neekee at 7:43 AM on March 27, 2011

Look for cough syrups with guaifenesin. Don't get one with DM, dextro-methorphan, that kind dries it out more.
posted by mareli at 7:52 AM on March 27, 2011

Are you sure it is mucus and not bronchial tube inflammation? Are your coughs sort of wheezy and thin, with some "dry" pain coming from down the throat, or rattle-y? A rattle-y cough means there is mucus, the other means you more likely have inflammation. Because usually Mucinex gets the job done if there is any mucus in there. But if it is just inflammation, Mucinex might not be the best bet because it will thin the protective mucus and let more things irritate and inflame the passages.

Either way, lots of fluids and humidity will make things better. If it is inflammation, a NSAID often works well for me.

I especially like the DM kind, because it lessens the urge to cough so much, and you really only feel the need to cough when there is something ready to go.
posted by gjc at 7:54 AM on March 27, 2011

Also, at some point it may switch from chest congestion to a sinus infection. Many times I took myself and kids to the doctor with a "congested chest" only to be told it was post nasal drip causing the cough. (It really felt like it was in the chest, but apparently not.) Neilmed sinus rinse and antibiotics to kick the sinus infection cured the cough. Sometimes after MONTHS of hacking coughs that I tried to wait out or get allergy docs to cure. Definitely worthwhile to check out.
posted by instamatic at 7:59 AM on March 27, 2011

Back in my health foody days I used something called Magnesium Plus for this - basically a packet of mineral salts I'd mix into a large bottle of water and chug a glass as often as possible. Quite effective for me, but I can't seem to find any reference to it poking around online alas (just some tablets that are NOT it - it was a paper packet).
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:00 AM on March 27, 2011

Buteyko breathing exercises will quite quickly reduce airway inflammation, thin mucus, and get your cilia moving, sometimes within minutes.
posted by zeek321 at 8:54 AM on March 27, 2011

(Mucus consistency is regulated by the nervous system, not just local inflammation.)
posted by zeek321 at 8:56 AM on March 27, 2011

You need an expectorant, but you also should really go see a doctor if it's in your chest, because the likelihood is you have an infection at this point that needs to be treated.

I see you've seen a doctor, but if it's 5 days later and it's the same, it's perhaps time for an antibiotic. If it's just been 5 days total, just an expectorant should do the trick.

Yes, the likelihood is there's an infection. It sounds like that infection is being treated: with fluids, rest, and time. I don't think any of us should be speculating on what the poster needs, but the idea that all infections with a cough for 5 days require antibiotics is ludicrous and contributing to antibiotic resistance in MRSA in the developed world.
posted by gramcracker at 8:59 AM on March 27, 2011

Seconding what ukdanae said - inhaling steam with an herbal boost can really help, and you don't need fancy equipment. Fill up a bowl or sink with water as hot as you can stand it, add essential oil of thyme, eucalyptus or pine, cover your head with a towel and breathe deeply through mouth and nose. IANAD.
posted by Paris Elk at 9:01 AM on March 27, 2011

I had a brutal cough with the recent flu that went around. Mucinex and lots of water is the answer. It took about 2 weeks for the coughing to stop completely, but the wost was over after about 4-5 days.
posted by empath at 9:13 AM on March 27, 2011

Response by poster: To all the responders - Thanks a bunch for all the excellent suggestions. I have been taking fluids but plan to add steaming to get additional relief. I did have a long and hot bath which has helped me immensely. Ginger and honey are two of my favorite ingredients and I plan to use it. Someone suggested fenugreek seeds which is a no-no according to my wife because it is a coolant and not appropriate to treat a cold. In any case, thanks to all responders. You have all been great.
posted by harigopal at 9:39 AM on March 27, 2011

I had the same thing. Finally went to the Dr. who put me on prednisone and albuterol inhaler, which have about cleared me up a week later. don't wanna wind up like this guy:
posted by wsg at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2011

If your bad cold lasts longer than a week and your cough or breathing are rattling, then you should consider asking a doctor about antibiotics. Some chest infections will not go away on their own, without a little help.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:17 AM on March 27, 2011

Yes, the likelihood is there's an infection. It sounds like that infection is being treated: with fluids, rest, and time. I don't think any of us should be speculating on what the poster needs, but the idea that all infections with a cough for 5 days require antibiotics is ludicrous and contributing to antibiotic resistance in MRSA in the developed world.
posted by gramcracker at 10:59 AM on March 27 [+] [!]

Quoted for truth. Don't ask for antibiotics unless you absolutely need them. If the doctor says you don't, then you likely don't. Please don't demand them.
posted by patheral at 11:04 AM on March 27, 2011

I also want to step in and say that black tea has theophylline in it, which is a bronchodilator. along with Mucinex and lots of liquid and hot steamy showers, it can really help. I'm dealing with my 4th bad chest thing of the year (actually this one really is pneumonia, diagnosed yesterday) and I've gone through so much tea I don't even want to think about it.
posted by KathrynT at 11:19 AM on March 27, 2011

Steaming, with Olbas Oil in the water.
posted by Dr.Pill at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2011

Adding to everything here, you really really want to avoid dairy products for the next few days until it clears up. Dairy seems to increase the production of mucus, so it makes a bad situation worse when you're sick.
posted by katyggls at 1:40 PM on March 27, 2011

Not seen fenugreek used as an expectorant before, but I agree with thyme; plus sweet marjoram, basil, and fennel seed. Ginger is good for many cold associated symptoms, but isn't really an expectorant as such.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:54 PM on March 27, 2011

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