Lung congestion and COVID

While fever, fatigue, and a dry cough are the most common symptoms of COVID-19 infection, if you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, you may also end up with a cough that produces wet mucus.

A dry cough is a more common symptom of COVID-19, but about one-third of people with COVID will cough up thick mucus and develop congestion in the lungs. This may manifest as pressure or heaviness in the chest, a rattling or feeling when breathing, and a ball of mucus when coughing.

When you become infected with a virus like SARS-CoV-2, your lungs and airways begin to produce extra mucus to clear the infection. A wet, productive cough is the body’s way of trying to clear this excess mucus from the airways.

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of coughing up phlegm caused by COVID. It will review what it means if you have a productive cough, and what medications, home remedies, and exercise you can use to clear your lungs from congestion.

What is mucus?

Mucus is the viscous fluid produced by the airways to keep the airways clean and moist. It also acts as a protective barrier to keep bacteria out. It is often called snot or phlegm. Mucus is important for maintaining bodily functions and preventing bacteria from getting sick.

Mucous membranes, the tissue that makes mucus, are found in many places in the body. They line your respiratory tract, which includes your nose, throat, and lungs, and your digestive tract, which includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. They are also found in the female reproductive tract and eyeball.

In the respiratory system (mouth, nose, throat, and lungs), mucus traps the bacteria you breathe in throughout the day and helps your body get rid of them. Tiny hair-like protrusions on the mucosa called cilia move dirty mucus up and out of the lungs.

The mucus is usually clear, but may also be white, yellowish, or other colors. It can go from thick like molasses to thinner and more runny. It can alter consistency, for example, when infection or inflammation prompts the body to produce thicker, stickier mucus to keep the infection from spreading and growing.

You usually swallow this dirty mucus unknowingly. But as your body tries to fight off invading bacteria, your mucous membranes produce more bacteria. As your body flushes mucus and bacteria from your airways, you end up coughing and sneezing, with a runny and runny nose.

A wet cough that brings out fluid is also called phlegm, chest cough, or chest tightness. Cough was defined as acute when it persisted for less than three weeks, subacute when it persisted for three to eight weeks, and chronic if it persisted for more than eight weeks.

What is mucus?

When healthy, mucus is usually clear. If you have an infection, it may be white or yellow, cloudy, and the body releases proteins and white blood cells to fight bacterial invasion. It may even have other colors sometimes.

These include:

  • Green mucus may be a sign of bacterial infection, although it’s not a clear sign. If they suspect a bacterial infection and want to prescribe antibiotics, your doctor should do further tests.
  • If a cough or inflammation has damaged the sinuses or airways, the mucus may turn pink from a small amount of blood.
  • Brown slime could mean you’ve been playing with the mud.
  • Black or dark brown mucus may appear if you are a heavy smoker or have lung disease.
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How COVID-19 affects the lungs

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which first emerged in China in November 2019. It infects the cells lining the airways, especially the mucous membranes.

The infection can inflame lung tissue, including the tissue through which oxygen and carbon dioxide pass between the blood and the air. When these tissues (alveoli) swell and fill with fluid, making breathing more difficult, it becomes harder for the lungs to do their job—carrying oxygen to your body and removing waste.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • fever or chills, night sweats
  • dry or wet cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • pain, including headache and sore throat
  • Loss of the ability to taste and smell
  • runny nose and chest tightness
  • Digestive problems, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting

various symptoms

Symptoms of COVID-19 vary from patient to patient. Some hints suggest that the variant of COVID-19 appears to have slightly different symptoms than the original strain. Some doctors say the Delta variant will experience more cold-like symptoms, including a runny nose, headache and sore throat.

When a COVID-19 infection becomes severe, the lungs swell and fill with fluid, a condition called pneumonia. This is often the cause of breathing difficulties with COVID-19 infection, and in severe cases may require treatment in the hospital with oxygen or a ventilator to breathe for them.

When COVID-19 pneumonia is severe, it can cause lasting lung damage and lingering symptoms that can take months or even a year to recover. Infection and inflammation of the lung tissue, including the airways, can lead to excess mucus, which can lead to a wet cough.

A dry cough is a more common symptom of COVID-19. About 50% to 70% of people with COVID-19 have a dry cough.

Wet cough is less common, but may account for one-quarter to one-third of patients. Over time, a dry cough may turn into a wet cough. In patients with prolonged COVID symptoms, a cough may develop months after infection.

when to see a doctor

If you have trouble breathing, you need to see a health professional or clinic.

Some other cough-related symptoms to look out for include:

  • persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • cough up blood
  • Puzzled
  • extreme lethargy and inability to stay awake
  • pale, blue, or gray skin, lips, nail beds
  • Cough that lasts more than three weeks
  • High fever over 104 F


The mucus our bodies make when we’re sick serves a purpose, but you may still want to try to get some of that mucus flowing when you’re battling an infection. Clearing the mucus won’t make your infection go away, but it can help you breathe better and improve your quality of life. Here are some ways to treat excess mucus in the lungs.


If you have mucus problems and a wet cough while you have COVID-19, your doctor can prescribe one of two types of medications called mucolytics. These thin the mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough up.

  • N-acetylcysteine ​​is often used to break down mucus in the chest cavity.
  • Bromhexine can be prescribed. Research suggests it may reduce the severity of symptoms in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Both of these drugs thin mucus and help you cough up, but their mechanism of action is different from over-the-counter (OTC) expectorants that contain guaifenesin, so they may help if OTC drugs don’t work.

If your COVID-19-related cough is prolonged or your chest tightness is causing breathing problems, you may need physical therapy to improve your lung health and strength.

over-the-counter treatment

Expectorants (such as Mucinex or anything that contains the active ingredient guaifenesin) can thin mucus and make it easier to cough up. This won’t make you cough less often, but it will make it more efficient and make it easier to clear your airways. These medications are best for helping coughs with chest tightness.

Decongestants (like Sudafed or any medicine that contains pseudoephedrine) constrict the blood vessels in the mucous membranes, especially the sinuses, thereby slowing the production of mucus. They are most effective for nasal congestion.

You don’t want to take cough medicine when you have a wet cough. Coughing is essential for getting mucus out of the lungs because it interferes with breathing. Taking a cough suppressant with a wet cough may increase your risk of pneumonia because it traps dirty mucus in your lungs and airways.

Congestion Home Remedies

In addition to medication, there are a few other home remedies you can try to get rid of chest congestion.

  • Stay hydrated. Mucus is 90% water and becomes more viscous when you’re dehydrated.
  • Use a humidifier, face steamer or vaporizer.
  • Soothe your face with a warm, moist towel, or use your face to breathe over a bowl of hot water.
  • Try deep breathing and asana exercises.
  • Try flushing your sinuses with a nasal irrigation device or nasal spray.
  • Support yourself while sleeping or lying down.

Breathing Exercises to Clear Your COVID Lungs

These exercises may help if you have trouble clearing mucus from your lungs after a respiratory infection. There are two types of exercise here.

The first two are breathing exercises that use your breath to strengthen your lungs and help you flush out mucus. The latter two are postural exercises that use gravity to help push mucus out of the lungs.

deep breathing exercises

This exercise will expand your lungs and help clear mucus from them. You can do this exercise lying down or sitting up, as long as your chest and shoulders are relaxed in a comfortable position:

  1. Place one hand on your upper abdomen and the other on your chest and feel your breathing movement.
  2. Take a deep breath through your nose and feel your belly expand outward.
  3. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, emptying your lungs and inhaling into your belly.
  4. Repeat slowly three to five times, multiple times a day.

Breath stacking exercise

This exercise can help expand your lungs, keep your muscles moving and flexible, and help strengthen your cough to clear mucus. You can do this exercise multiple times a day, but make sure you wait at least an hour after eating or drinking, and stop if you experience pain:

  1. Squeeze all the breath out of your body.
  2. Take a deep breath and hold your breath until you need more air.
  3. Take another small breath without exhaling.
  4. Repeat small inhales without exhaling until you can no longer inhale.
  5. Hold your breath for up to five seconds.
  6. Forcefully exhale all the air from your lungs.

Supine exercise

Wait at least an hour after a meal before doing posture or positioning exercises. Stop if you feel uncomfortable or the location exacerbates your heartburn.

This position can help use gravity to drain mucus from the lungs:

  1. Lie down on your back.
  2. Keep your head flat and bend your knees.
  3. Support your hips with a pillow so that they are higher than your chest.
  4. Hold this pose for at least five minutes.
  5. If you feel comfortable, try to take deep breaths.

side lying exercise

Wait at least an hour after eating to do this exercise, and stop if you feel sick or have heartburn. This exercise can help use gravity to push mucus out of the lungs:

  1. Lie beside you.
  2. Keep your head flat and support with your hands as needed.
  3. Support your hips with a pillow so that they are higher than your chest.
  4. Hold this pose for at least five minutes.
  5. Take a deep breath if you can.
  6. Repeat lying on the other side.


Mucus is produced by mucous membranes in the respiratory tract and elsewhere. People with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections may experience a wet cough, coughing up mucus. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or home remedies or prescription medications to make you more comfortable and help clear your lungs. Breathing exercises may also help.

VigorTip words

Coughing is one of the symptoms that can persist in post-COVID syndrome, also known as prolonged COVID. For some people with COVID-19, their cough, fatigue, pain, and brain fog persist for weeks or even months after their initial COVID-19 infection.

Estimates suggest that approximately 10% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 become chronic COVID-19 patients. One of the common symptoms of long-term COVID-19 is a cough. When you test negative for the virus, you are no longer contagious, but having symptoms long after the infection has subsided (sometimes weeks or months) is unbearable.

Talk to your doctor about treating your long-term COVID-19 symptoms. If they reassure you, consider seeking a second opinion or finding a local hospital that has established research centers for long-term COVID-19 patients. We are still learning about this new complication of COVID-19 and why it occurs.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed. We will update this article as new research emerges.For the latest information on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.