Dealing with allergies or an upper respiratory infection can be frustrating, especially when you're battling a whole myriad of symptoms. For instance, a congested throat, caused by thick mucus or postnasal drip, makes it hard to breathe and can be a barrier to a restful night. Fortunately, some home care steps may relieve this throat congestion and reduce symptoms as your body recovers.
Step 1: Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of fluids, mainly water, in order to stay as hydrated as possible. Fluids will help thin the mucus in the respiratory system, making it easier to cough up phlegm or blow mucus out of your nose. Warm liquids may be particularly effective, since inhaling the steam as you sip on hot tea or broth may help soften the mucus and soothe your throat.
Step 2: Add Moisture
Take a steamy, hot shower or bath to help soften and loosen the mucus, and to make it easier for the sinuses to drain and for the cough to be productive. It helps to take deep breaths in the shower or bath, to fill the lungs with steam. Another way to add moisture is to use a humidifier in the bedroom to counter dry indoor air.
Step 3: Gargle or Rinse
Gargle with a mixture of 1 cup warm water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to help remove the excess phlegm in the throat and deter bacterial growth. You can also use a saline nasal spray or sinus wash that clears mucus, irritants and allergens from the nasal passages and sinuses. Mix your own saline rinse with 1 cup of distilled or boiled and cooled water, 1/2 teaspoon noniodized salt and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, or use a premixed saline rinse packet as directed.
Step 4: Use Gravity
When your body is upright, the mucus is more likely to drain, but when you lie down, this substance tends to build up in your throat. So stay upright as much as you can during the day, and when you sleep or rest, sit in a recliner or prop your head up with a few pillows.
Step 5: Breathe and Cough
As you drink more fluids or expose your lungs to moist air, cough and clear your throat when you feel the urge, to help remove excess mucus from your airways. Take deep breaths and blow air out of your chest through your mouth to help trigger coughing.
Step 6: Medicate
You may also find relief with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Common choices include expectorants, such as guaifenesin, which thin mucus and facilitate coughing up secretions, and decongestants, which can make breathing easier. However, since the cough reflex is important in clearing secretions, a cough suppressant may not be of value. Depending on your other symptoms, allergy medications such as antihistamines and OTC pain relievers may provide relief. Speak with your doctor if you need advice on OTC medications to manage your symptoms.
Things You'll Need
Water, sports drinks, tea, broth and other fluids
Distilled water, salt, baking soda
Saline nasal spray
Sinus rinse bottle
OTC medications such as guaifenesin (optional)
While there's nothing magical about chicken soup, it may just help cold or allergy symptoms. The broth helps loosen and thin mucus, just like a hot shower, and the soup can provide important fluids -- and simply make you feel better.
If thick or excessive mucus is an ongoing problem, or if you have a cough that lasts more than a few weeks, see your doctor. Get medical attention right away if you also have a fever, shortness of breath, weakness, weight loss, or if you are coughing up blood. Before providing any OTC cold or allergy medication to a young child, speak with a pediatrician for guidance.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD