Inexpensive Natural Chest Congestion Remedies

by Reader Contributors

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Store-bought congestion medicines can be expensive and sometimes have undesired side effects. Next time you’re fighting congestion, try one of these inexpensive natural remedies instead.

Editor’s note: The following suggestions are not meant to replace your doctor. Saving money should never be more important than your health.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I have had a week now of chest congestion following a head cold and yesterday it got very bad. I cough all the time. It’s unproductive, and my chest hurts like crazy. I can’t afford to go to the doctor and cold medicines don’t provide relief but make me tired.

Do you have any ideas, either homemade or OTC? I was thinking of Vicks® VapoRub. My mom used that on me when I was very little. I shower a lot because the hot water makes me feel better, but after awhile, it tightens up and I feel terrible again.
Michelle in Northern Michigan

Frugal Natural Chest Congestion Remedies and Recipes

We reached out to our frugal readers to find out if they have any effective home remedies to help ease chest congestion. Hopefully one of their remedies can help both you and your wallet the next time you’re feeling under the weather.

Natural Cough Syrup

To make your own cough syrup, bring two cups of water to a boil. Stir in two sliced lemons, half a teaspoon ground ginger, two tablespoons of honey and two tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer until the mixture becomes a thick syrup. Let mixture cool and then strain into a clean jar.

For adults only, you may add one ounce of liqueur, brandy, or whiskey. Take one to two teaspoons as needed for coughing.

Hot Liquids Reduce Congestion

When you are congested, try drinking hot liquids every hour. Peppermint tea, herb tea, and broth will all work. Even warm water will work. This will help thin the mucus in your lungs. Also, take an expectorant like Mucinex® to loosen the congestion and bring it up so that you can spit it out.

I also suggest having someone “clap” your back by cupping his/her hands and hitting your back. This technique is used for cystic fibrosis patients and it really loosens up congestion.
Gail in Houston

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Steam: A Natural Congestion Remedies

If hot showers help Michelle’s congestion, but the effects don’t last as long as she’d like, try filling the bathroom sink (or a bowl) with very hot water. Then put a towel over her head and bowl or sink to keep the steam in, adding an herbal tea bag or a drop or two of essential oil if desired. Breathe in the steam for a few minutes until you feel it working.

It’s a time- and water-saver over constant showering, so you can do it more often. Plus, it does double-duty as a good facial sauna, too!

When Should You See Your Doctor?

The “cold” may have progressed to pneumonia. You should really go to the doctor.

Drink plenty of fluids to liquefy your secretions. Rubbing in a warm chest salve such as Vicks® VapoRub is soothing, may reduce coughing, and stimulates the blood flow in the chest, which lets the body’s white cells work better in helping heal the body. The “tightness” you describe may be asthma; again you should see your doctor. Over-the-counter intervention will not be sufficient at this point.

Postural drainage may help. Hang your head and chest off the side of the bed (bending at the waist), take some deep breaths, and do some deep coughing to help clear your lungs (about 5-10 minutes). Run a humidifier in your bedroom.
Lana, an RN

On the Feet?

This is something I heard about. It reportedly works 100% of the time, and it won’t cost anything to try because she already has the Vicks®.

At bedtime, rub Vicks® VapoRub generously on the bottoms of your feet and put on a pair of old socks. It reportedly stops the cough, no matter how persistent, in about 5 minutes and lasts for hours and hours.

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Get to Your Doctor

If your chest “hurts like crazy,” you need to get to the doctor pretty soon before you end up in the hospital with an even larger medical bill than just going to the doctor. Once your chest starts to burn and/or hurt, you are past the point of home remedies and need professional medical attention. I’ve been there, just like you, and this is the lesson I have learned.

Work with your doctor, and I’m sure you can arrange a payment plan or even a reduced bill. Most doctors are “doctoring” because they want to help people get better, not cause you heartache with the bill. But, make sure you talk with the doctor directly; don’t try to work anything out with the reception personnel.

Natural Honey Remedy

Manuka honey can cure almost any cough. Manuka Honey is now used as treatment in the DC burn hospital because it has very strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory actions. About 1/3 of a teaspoon should be allowed to dissolve slowly in the back of the mouth. Also, spread thinly on a piece of toast. It is gaining use as a cure for ulcers for same reason it cures coughs. Do not give honey to infants.

If you have a bacterial infection in the nose/sinuses, coat the inside of your nose with an anti-bacterial Neosporin. A few treatments and you may be cured almost permanently.

I and other members of my family had chronic cough problems for since one can remember. Now they are stopped within minutes using Manuka honey.

I had painful sinuses and stuffy nose for years and the Neosporin treatment has made it a thing of the past.

Locally grown bee pollen can help with allergies. It must be locally grown and try a small amount first to see if you are allergic to it. If not, a teaspoon a day is wonderful.

Essential Oil Reduces Congestion

Place a few drops of eucalyptus oil and peppermint oil in a tablespoon of olive or grapeseed oil and rub under the nose, on the throat, and on the chest. You can also drop a few drops onto a washcloth or sponge and leave it in the bottom of the shower when you take a shower. The vapor will help decongest.

Use a Heating Pad for Chest Congestion

Use a heating pad on your chest. It will help soothe the cough and congestion in your chest and draw it out.
Karen in Delaware

Three Step Approach to Natural Congestion Remedies

Here are three things I have used for years and they really seem to help. Put a heating pad on your chest. This can be any kind of heating pad, including electric (least recommended), hot water bottle, or one of the newer microwavable pads (see below for directions on how to make your own). Put it on over a layer of clothing (to prevent any possible burns). Make sure you follow any heating pad instructions.

The next thing I use is a mixture of lemon juice and honey. In my opinion, it is best to use fresh lemon juice and raw honey. But I’ve also used bottled lemon juice and processed honey with fine results. Starting with about a tablespoon of honey, add as much lemon as you can stand for sourness, but where the honey is still thick enough to be a bit clingy. Mix well and then eat a spoonful of it. If your throat is sore, let this slide down your throat as much as possible. It may tingle a bit, but that’s fine. Repeat as often as you need to for coughing. This old cure is becoming popular again because, except for a few extra calories, there are no negative side effects to it, as there can be with pharmaceuticals. Also, the ingredients can be kept on hand, and it can be very effective.

Lastly, I use a Neti pot. This is for nasal irrigation, which many people don’t want to think about or try. It isn’t the most pleasant thing at first, but it can be so effective that I have turned many people into believers. I even have a “travel pot,” so that I don’t break my good one. Nasal irrigation systems can be bought at the drugstore, although I prefer my porcelain Neti pot (it’s very effective and once bought it’s virtually free to use).

Basically, nasal irrigation helps to clean out clogged sinuses. A saline solution is put into one nostril, then comes out the other. I admit it was a bit disgusting at first, but I got over that pretty quickly. I used to have chronic sinus infections, and I haven’t had a single one since I started the Neti pot 10 years ago. Nasal irrigation is a big enough topic that I suggest you look at it on the web for more details, or talk to your pharmacist.

To make a rice pad, decide on how big you want it (mine is about 1.5 feet by 2 feet), and make a bag that size (shaped as you might a pillow case). Make sure you use cotton, since synthetics can melt. Then sew channels in the bag from bottom to top, about 1.5 inches wide. Put a few tablespoons of uncooked rice in each channel and then sew across to seal the rice in. Add another few tablespoons of rice, and sew across. Repeat until the bag is all filled with rice. It will have a kind of quilted look when finished. To use, put it in the microwave and heat as desired. It can get very hot, and more so in some spots than others, so use with caution. I used my pad for many years. It started to tear at some of the channel seams, so I am making a new one. This time I am using a slightly heavier cotton than last time, and I bought new fabric (last time I used scraps).
Lisa in Ypsilanti

Reviewed October 2022

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