Allergies can cause air passages to swell, constrict, and produce excess mucus in the lungs. Not only can this result in chest pain, but can also lead to chest congestion.

More than 50 million people in the United States experience allergies every year. They happen when the body has an exaggerated response to usually harmless environmental substances, including dust and pollen.

During an allergic reaction, the body releases histamine and other inflammatory mediators into the bloodstream. This affects different body parts and causes allergy symptoms such as eye tearing, sneezing, a runny nose, and more.

In this article, we explore the connection between allergies and chest congestion and describe ways to treat and help prevent them. We also look at other allergy symptoms, additional causes of chest congestion, and frequently asked questions.

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Chest congestion refers to the inflammation, constriction, and building up of mucus in the lungs and lower airways, also known as the bronchi. It is the immune system’s way of protecting the airways against germs and removing them from the body.

Allergies can cause chest congestion. This occurs when the body reacts to environmental irritants by producing histamine and other inflammatory molecules, which can cause airway inflammation and swelling of the mucus membranes. This produces excess mucus and can lead to congestion.

The main symptom of chest congestion is coughing with the production of mucus that can vary in color from yellow to gray. It may also cause wheezing and shortness of breath.

The histamine the body produces during an allergic reaction affects different body organs.

Allergy-induced chest congestion rarely occurs as the sole symptom. It often appears with other common allergy symptoms such as:

Treatment of chest congestion depends on the cause. In most cases, the symptoms resolve without treatment.

If chest congestion is secondary to allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen or irritant.

Although most mild symptoms resolve spontaneously, doctors may also provide medicines for mild allergic reactions, including:

Immunotherapy involves a doctor introducing a person to a substance they are allergic to in incremental doses. They use this treatment with the aim of making the person’s immune system less sensitive to the allergen, reducing allergy symptoms when a person encounters it in the future.

Home remedies

A person can take at-home remedies for chest congestion and cough relief, including:

Drinking fluids can help keep the nose and throat lining moist, making it easier for a person to clear mucus.

A 2015 study suggests that sleeping with a pillow height of 5 centimeters, or 2 inches, can improve pulmonary function.

According to 2018 research among people at an Indian hospital, steam inhalation can also help relieve chest congestion. Additionally, exercising may improve mucus clearance.

Other medications for accompanying symptoms

A person may also take the following medications for symptoms that often accompany chest congestion:

  • Antitussive medications: These help suppress and relieve a cough.
  • Expectorants: These medications thin out mucus, making it easy to expel.
  • Analgesic and antipyretic medications: These can help treat fever and body aches.

A doctor may ask people who frequently have severe allergic reactions to carry lifesaving medications, such as epinephrine injections, at all times.

If a person has a severe allergic reaction, they may experience anaphylaxis, a medical emergency. In this situation, people should call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and what to do

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • wheezing
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • a fast heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • anxiety or confusion
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • blue or white lips
  • fainting or loss of consciousness

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
  2. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  3. Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
  4. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.

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The type of allergy will determine how a person can manage and help prevent allergic reactions.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends:

  • being aware of allergens and avoiding them
  • keeping a diary to track potential triggers and symptoms
  • taking medications as prescribed
  • carrying emergency medications or having them nearby at all times
  • wearing a medical alert bracelet and having an emergency action plan

Approximately 95% of chest congestion episodes are secondary to viruses, often leading to bronchitis with or without asthma flares. Allergens, irritants, and bacteria may also cause it.

Chest congestion can result from anything that irritates and inflames the lower airways and lungs. The following are rarer causes of chest congestion:

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about the relationship between allergies and congestion.

What does allergy chest congestion feel like?

Allergy-induced chest congestion feels similar to chest congestion that results from other conditions. Excessive mucus can cause wheezing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.

Is congestion due to allergies the same as a chest cold?

Chest congestion due to colds and allergies have similar symptoms. Both cause airway inflammation and excess mucus. However, the former occurs due to a virus, while the latter is a reaction to an allergen.

Chest congestion is a common symptom of environmental allergies. It can happen when environmental allergens cause inflammation and mucus production in the chest. However, other conditions may also cause chest congestion, including respiratory infections that trigger asthma.

Treatment for chest congestion involves avoiding allergens, using at-home remedies such as hot tea or honey, taking medications, exercising, steam inhalation, and drinking fluids.