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Chesty cough

A chesty cough is one which expels mucus or phlegm from the chest

A chesty cough occurs when our body expels any excess phlegm out of our respiratory system. This is often caused by an over-production of mucus due to viral infections such as the cold or flu. In this page, our immune system expert Dr. Jen Tan examines the symptoms and causes of a chesty cough, and recommends the best natural solutions to ease any discomfort.

What is a chesty cough?

Chesty coughs are triggered by an excessive amount of mucus in the chest. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as mucus coughs.

Doctors classify chesty coughs as ‘productive coughs’ as the act of coughing produces (or brings up) mucus from the chest. This is distinct from dry coughs and tickly coughs which are both ‘non-productive’ coughs resulting from irritation at the back of your throat or pharynx.

Why do we produce mucus?

Oxygen is brought into our bloodstream via the lungs. The air we breathe moves firstly through the large and medium sized tubes known as the bronchi and bronchioles. These tubes are lined by mucous membranes, so-called because they produce a layer of mucus which covers the surfaces of the tubes.

This mucus lining has a purpose – it traps unwanted particles such as dust, bacteria and viruses entering the respiratory tract and in this way, helps protect the body.

When the common cold or flu viruses enter the respiratory system, more mucus is produced in an attempt to wash away the bugs and help fight off the infection. This increased mucus can gather in the respiratory system and a cough reflex is triggered to help remove the extra phlegm.

Causes of chesty coughs

There are a number of health conditions where excessive mucus production is seen in the respiratory system. These include:

  • Cold and flu viruses – these infections  are the most common cause of chesty mucous coughs
  • Other lung infections – a wide variety of other infections, ranging from pneumonia to TB (tuberculosis), can give rise to a chesty cough
  • Other medical conditions – these range from chronic bronchitis and obstructive airways disease to cystic fibrosis
  • Smoking – prolonged irritation of the lungs by cigarette smoke leads to a change in cell structure in the respiratory tract and the excessive production of mucus.

Symptoms of a chesty cough

Your chesty cough will most probably be the result of infection by cold and flu viruses and if this is the case, it is likely you will experience other symptoms of the cold or flu such as a blocked nose or fever.

However, you may experience other symptoms associated with a chesty cough including:

  • Sore throat – mucus produced when you cough can irritate the lining of your throat causing it to become painful
  • Pain in the chest – this arises as the muscles become strained or ‘bruised’ because of coughing. In rare circumstances, it has also been known for ribs to be fractured during prolonged and vigorous coughing 
  • Muscular pain in the abdomen – coughing can also strain your abdominal muscles.

Treating a chesty cough

In general, expectorants are used to treat chesty coughs. The word comes from the Latin verb expectorare meaning ‘to expel from the chest’. Sounds a bit like Harry Potter with a wand…

Expectorants work by thinning mucus making it easier for the body to expel it when coughing. This group of medicines is the main form of treatment for chesty coughs and available as both conventional medicines and herbal remedies.

Herbs such as ivy and thyme act as expectorants and have been used to treat chesty coughs for many years. These medicinal herbs can be found in the A.Vogel remedy Bronchoforce for chesty coughs.

"Apart from the fact that my husband regularly uses this medicine, the whole family uses it whenever they have coughs."


Sometimes, mucus can feel ‘stuck’ in your chest and although you might feel like you might have a ‘chesty cough’, nothing comes up when you cough. In these situations, you need something to help break up or shift the mucus.

"It is very effective and tastes pleasant. It is also very easy to use and the packaging is well designed getting right to the spot."

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What should I look out for?

Chesty coughs can also be caused by conditions other than cold or flu infections. You should seek medical advice if you:

  • Cough up blood
  • Cough up foul smelling mucus
  • Have a cough which does not improve within 7 days (with or without treatment)
  • Suffer from a persistent, unexplained cough (longer than 3 weeks)
  • Feel short of breath
  • Notice a fever

How Echinacea helps

Echinacea is a traditional herb known to aid the body in its fight against the symptoms of cold and flu. Supplements like Echinaforce help increase the body’s resistance to infection by strengthening the immune system, allowing the body to fight the misery of colds and flu.

Leave your feedback

I would love to hear what you thought of the information you have read on this page. Just leave your comment below, thanks Dr. Jen Tan

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