Nobody likes to wake up in the morning to find themselves hindered by a cold with an awful combination of congested nasal passages, a phlegmy cough and mucus in the chest that won't come up. You're desperate to make all the symptoms go away and get back to feeling like yourself.
Yes, staying hydrated keeps your mucus thin and loose so that it can move easily through your nasal passages and bronchial tubes.
Chest Congestion Causes
Before you understand why hydration is so crucial, it's important to understand chest congestion causes. It all starts with a cold caused by one of at least 200 viruses. When sinuses become infected by viruses, they swell and your membranes produce extra mucus, which has nowhere to drain because your sinuses are blocked. This causes a stuffy nose and nasal headache, and when that mucus trickles to the back of your throat, it triggers coughing, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
After attacking your nose, sinus and throat, an infection can spread to your bronchial tubes, which swell and get coated with mucus. The medical term for this type of chest congestion is acute bronchitis. Symptoms include chest tightness, difficulty breathing, fever, wheezing and a cough producing yellow-green mucus.
How Does Water Help?
Warm fluids may be more beneficial than cold ones because warm fluids — not only water but also tea, apple juice and chicken broth — will increase mucus flow and prevent the mucus from stopping up your nasal passages and bronchial tubes. Steam from the hot drink or from a bowl of boiling water can have the same benefits as a long shower, because humidity helps break up mucus in your chest so you can cough it out.
If you're not sure how much to drink, according to the Mayo Clinic, for adequate hydration, women need 11.5 cups of fluid per day and men, 15.5 cups. This would be a good starting point, but talk to your doctor for your specific needs.
Recover From a Cold Faster
Although most colds last one to two weeks, the Mayo Clinic reports, alleviating your symptoms can get you back on the road to recovery more quickly. In addition to consuming fluids, avoid dehydrating beverages such as coffee, alcohol and caffeinated soda. Be sure to get plenty of rest, and prop your head up with a pillow when you sleep or recline to stop mucus from pooling in your sinuses while your head is down.
What about chest congestion medicine? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that because colds with congestion are caused by a virus, antibiotics can't treat them. You can try over-the-counter pain relievers, decongestants and saline sprays to relieve symptoms, but they won't help you recover faster. For those times when you have mucus in your chest that won't come up, an expectorant helps to break up a cough and clear your air passages.
- Harvard Health Publishing: “The Importance of Staying Hydrated”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “No Coughing Matter”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “What to Do About Sinusitis”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “When a ‘Chest Cold’ Is Something More”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Symptom Relief”
- Mayo Clinic: “Cold Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t, What Can’t Hurt”
- MedlinePlus: “Humidifiers and Health”
- University of North Carolina Asheville Health and Counseling Center: “Congestion, Sore Throat and Cough”
- Emory Healthcare: “H2O 101—Stay Hydrated & Beat the Heat”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Water and Nutrition”
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"
- Texas Health and Human Services: "The Importance of Hydration"