Mucus build-up in the nasal passages or chest can cause breathing difficulty and pain. Whether the problem is an infection requiring antibiotics or simply a result of allergies, self-care techniques can relieve the congestion and help you feel better. If the excess mucus is effectively removed early enough, later infection can be averted.
Causes of Excess Mucus
Excess mucus in nasal passages, throat or lungs can be caused by colds, infections, allergies or chronic health conditions. Whatever the cause, it is miserable for mucus to interfere with good breathing. There are steps you can take to help yourself breathe easier and feel better.
Home Remedies for Nasal Congestion
Many physicians recommend nasal irrigation to relieve mucus. It might seem bizarre to flush out the sinuses, but doing so is one of the most effective ways to relieve nasal congestion. Saline mixes can be purchased over the counter along with squeeze bottles or neti pots to use for the irrigation process. All come with instructions for use. When the individual packets of mix are used, you can make your own saline solution by mixing ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of baking soda into 1 cup warm water.
Nasal saline spray adds moisture to the mucus so it is easier to eliminate by blowing the nose. Nasal saline spray is readily available over the counter.
Moisture helps by lubricating the tissues and softening mucus. A steamy shower will often loosen mucus more effectively than a saline spray. Breathing in the moisture produced by a humidifier, a cool-mist vaporiser or a bowl of steamy hot water will assist. These techniques are generally safe for small children.
Go for a brisk walk or bike ride. Exercise stimulates the body's natural production of adrenalin, which acts as a natural decongestant.
Decongestant sprays give quick relief by reducing the swelling in the nasal passages, but if used too long will create a "rebound effect," making matters worse.
Antihistamines block the body's production of histamine, the chemical that causes itching, sneezing, congestion and runny nose. Antihistamines are most effective when started soon after the onset of symptoms but can cause drowsiness.
Decongestants work by shrinking the blood vessels in nasal membranes, thus reducing the swelling in the nasal passages. Taken in a pill or liquid form, decongestants can provoke nervousness, difficulty sleeping, increased heart rate and difficulty urinating.
Antihistamines, decongestants and combination pills are widely available over-the-counter.
Guaifenesin is an expectorant that helps relieve chest congestion by loosening the phlegm and making coughs more effective. Readily available over the counter, it should be taken with a food and a full glass of water. Guaifenesin should not be used by pregnant women.
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and Naproxen will help with pain and fever.
When to See a Doctor
See a physician if symptoms persist longer than 10 days, if improvement is followed by worsening, mucus is cloudy or dark, your upper teeth hurt or facial pain accompanies the sinus congestion. These are symptoms of possible bacterial infection, and an antibiotic might be needed.
Also call your physician if nasal or chest congestion is accompanied by fever and exhaustion. These are possible symptoms of influenza.
Drink plenty of water to keep mucus thin and easy to expel.
Avoid smoke, especially tobacco smoke.
Avoid alcohol. It can irritate nasal membranes as well as interact with medications.
Avoid heavy fumes of any kind. Cleaning products, paint, hairspray and even perfumes can further irritate nasal passages.
Use a nasal decongestant spray before take-off if you are going to fly. This will prevent the sinuses from blocking.