Does COVID Cause Chest Congestion and Phlegm?

Reviewed on 11/29/2022
Illustration of mucus buildup in the lungs from COVID
Congestion, phlegm, and cough are common COVID-19 symptoms.

COVID-19 is a type coronavirus not previously identified in humans responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.

COVID commonly causes chest congestion and phlegm, along with a cough. Most cases of cough associated with COVID are considered “dry” coughs, which means mucus does not come up when you cough. Other coughs associated with COVID are productive (also called a wet cough), which is a cough that helps clear mucus from the airways.

In addition to congestion and phlegm, other symptoms of COVID may include:

If you experience any of the following symptom of COVID, get medical attention immediately. Call 911 or go to a hospital’s emergency department.

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Bluish lips or face
  • New confusion or inability to arouse

How Are Mild COVID Symptoms Treated?

For mild cases of COVID, supportive care is aimed at relieving symptoms.

Patients with mild illness are usually advised to remain home and self-isolate for at least five days. They should wear a high-quality mask when indoors around others to avoid spreading the virus. Treatments for mild symptoms of COVID include:

  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers 
  • Cough suppressants if needed

How Do I Get Rid of COVID Chest Congestion?

For chest congestion and phlegm due to COVID, treatments that may help include: 

  • Steam therapy
    • Inhale steam from a hot shower or boiling pot of water to help open airways and loosen and clear mucus from the lungs
  • Use postural drainage techniques
    • These techniques use gravity to help drain mucus into the mouth to be spit or coughed out by placing the body into specific positions
    • A doctor or respiratory therapist can show you how to do this, and recommend how often
  • Breathing exercises
    • Pursed lip breathing
      • Inhale through your nose and exhale at least twice as long through your mouth, with pursed lips
      • This reduces the number of breaths you take and keeps the airways open longer
    • Belly breathing (diaphragmic breathing)
    • Inhale through your nose and pay attention to how your belly fills with air (be aware of your belly rising and falling) 
    • Exhale through your mouth at least two to three times as long as you inhaled
  • Chest percussion (chest physiotherapy) 
    • Uses clapping of the chest with a cupped hand to vibrate the airways in the lungs which helps move mucus from smaller airways into larger ones for it to be coughed up
    • This requires the help of another person, special electronic devices designed to vibrate the chest, or other instruments to vibrate the chest safely
  • Don’t smoke or quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with antioxidant-rich foods 
  • Invest in an air purifier to help clean the air inside your home
  • Avoid harmful pollutants that can irritate airways 

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Reviewed on 11/29/2022

Image source: iStock Images,of%20COVID%2D19.