Although fever, fatigue, and a dry cough are the most common symptoms of COVID-19 infection, you can also get a wet cough with mucus if you contract SARS-CoV-2.
Dry cough is the most common symptom of COVID-19, but about a third of COVID patients cough up thick mucus and experience lung congestion. This can manifest as chest pressure or heaviness in the chest, a whistling sound or sensation when breathing, and release of mucus when coughing.
Your lungs and airways start to make extra mucus to get rid of infections when you contract a virus like SARS-CoV-2. A productive wet cough is the body's way of clearing excess mucus from the airways.
This article will provide a complete overview of mucus cough in COVID. You'll look at what it means if you have a productive cough and what medications, home remedies, and exercise you can use to ease congestion.
What is slime?
Mucus is a thick fluid that is produced in the respiratory tract to keep it clean and moist. It also serves as a protective barrier against germs. This is often known as mucus or phlegm. Mucus is important for keeping the body alive and protecting it against germs.
Mucous membranes, the tissues that make mucus, are found in many places in the body. They cover the respiratory tract, which includes the nose, throat, and lungs, and the digestive tract, which includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines. They are also found in the female genital tract and eyeballs.
In the respiratory system (in the mouth, nose, throat, and lungs), mucus traps the germs you breathe in during the day and helps the body eliminate them. Tiny hair-like projections on the mucous membranes, called cilia, drain dirty mucus up and out of the lungs.
Mucus is usually clear, but it can be whitish, yellowish, or a different color. It can range from as thick as molasses to much more runny and runny. This can change the consistency, such as when an infection or inflammation causes the body to produce thicker, stickier mucus so the infection doesn't spread or grow.
You usually swallow this filthy mucus without realizing it. But when your body tries to fight off invading germs, your mucous membranes make more of them. You end up coughing and sneezing due to nasal drops and runny nose while your body clears mucus and germs from the airways.
A wet cough that produces fluids is also called a productive cough, chest cough, or chest congestion. A cough is defined as acute if it lasts less than three weeks, subacute if it lasts three to eight weeks, and chronic if it lasts more than eight weeks.
When healthy, mucus is usually clear. If you have an infection, it may be white or yellow and cloudy with proteins and white blood cells secreted by the body to fight germs. Sometimes it can have shades of other colors.
- Greenish mucus may indicate a bacterial infection, but it is not a specific sign. Your doctor should perform additional tests if he suspects a bacterial infection and wants to prescribe antibiotics.
- The mucus may be pink from small amounts of blood if coughing or inflammation has damaged the sinuses or airways.
- The sticky brown substance may mean you've been playing in the mud.
- Black or dark brown mucus may appear if you smoke a lot or have a lung condition.
How COVID-19 Affects the Lungs
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which first appeared in China in November 2019. It attacks the cells that line the airways, particularly the mucous membranes.
The infection causes inflammation of the lung tissue, including the tissues through which oxygen and carbon dioxide pass between the blood and the air. When these tissues ( alveoli ) swell and fill with fluid, making breathing difficult, it becomes more difficult for the lungs to do their job of 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
- Aches and pains, including headache and sore throat
- Loss of the ability to taste and smell.
- Nasal and chest congestion
- Digestive problems, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
The symptoms of COVID-19 vary from patient to patient. And some evidence suggests that the COVID-19 variants appear to have slightly different symptoms than the original strain. Some doctors say that the Delta variant causes more colds, including a runny nose, headache, and sore throat.
When COVID-19 infection becomes severe, the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid, a condition called pneumonia. This usually causes breathing difficulties with COVID-19 infections, and severe cases may require hospital treatment with oxygen or a ventilator.
In severe COVID-19 pneumonia, it can cause permanent lung damage and persistent symptoms that can take months or even a year to heal. Infection and inflammation of the lung tissue, including the respiratory tract, can cause excessive mucus production, which then leads to a wet, productive cough.
Dry cough is a more common symptom of COVID-19. About 50% to 70% of COVID-19 patients experience a dry cough.
A wet productive cough is less common, but can occur in a quarter to a third of patients. Over time, a dry cough can turn into a wet cough. In patients with long-term COVID symptoms, there may be a cough several months after infection.
When to see a doctor
If you have trouble breathing, see your doctor or clinic.
Some other cough symptoms to look out for include:
- Constant chest pain or pressure
- Severe drowsiness and inability to stay awake.
- Pale, blue, or gray skin, lips, nail beds
- The cough lasts more than three weeks.
- High fever above 104 F
The mucus our bodies make while we're sick has a purpose, but you probably still want to try to get it to move while you're still fighting the infection. Removing mucus will not cure the infection, but it will help you breathe better and improve your quality of life. Here are some ways to remove excess mucus from your lungs .
If you have mucus problems and a wet productive cough with a COVID-19 infection, your doctor may prescribe one of two prescription medications called mucolytics . They thin the mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough.
- N-acetylcysteine is often prescribed to break down breast mucus.
- Bromhexine may be prescribed. Research shows that it can reduce the severity of symptoms in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Both medications thin mucus and aid coughing, but they work through different mechanisms than over-the-counter expectorants that contain guaifenesin, so they may be helpful if over-the-counter medications don't work.
If you have a prolonged COVID-19-related cough or chest congestion that causes breathing problems, you may need physical therapy to improve the health and strength of your lungs.
Expectorants ( like Mucinex or something with the active ingredient guaifenesin) thin out mucus and make coughing easier. It won't make you cough less, but it will make your cough more productive and make it easier to clear your airways. These medications work best for coughs and chest congestion.
Decongestants ( like Sudafed or something with pseudoephedrine) constrict the blood vessels in the mucous membranes, especially in the sinuses, which slows down the production of mucus. They work best for nasal congestion.
Don't use cough suppressants for wet coughs. Coughing is necessary to clear mucus from the lungs, where it interferes with breathing. Taking a cough suppressant for wet coughs can increase the risk of pneumonia because it traps dirty mucus in the lungs and airways.
Home remedies for congestion
In addition to medications, there are other home remedies that can help relieve chest congestion.
- Keep hydrated. Mucus is 90% water and can thicken when dehydrated.
- Use a moisturizer, facial steamer, or vaporizer.
- Dampen your face with a warm, damp washcloth, or breathe your face into a bowl of hot water.
- Try deep breathing and positional exercises.
- Try rinsing your sinuses with a nasal washer or nasal spray.
- Support yourself when you sleep or lie down.
Breathing exercises to clear the lungs of COVID
If you have trouble clearing mucus from your lungs after a respiratory infection, these exercises can help. Here are two types of exercises.
The first two are breathing exercises, in which your breathing strengthens the lungs and helps clear mucus. The second two are posture exercises that use gravity to help clear mucus from the lungs.
Deep breathing exercise
This exercise will expand your lungs and help clear mucus from them. You can lie down or sit down to do this exercise, just keep your chest and shoulders relaxed in a comfortable position:
- Place one hand on your upper abdomen and the other on your chest to feel for breathing movements.
- Inhale deeply through your nose and feel your belly expand outward.
- Breathe out slowly with pursed lips, emptying the lungs and drawing the stomach.
- Repeat slowly three to five times, several times a day.
Breathing Overlay Exercise
This exercise will help you expand your lungs, keep your muscles mobile and flexible, and make your cough worse and clear mucus. You can do this exercise several times a day, but be sure to wait at least an hour after eating or drinking and stop if you feel pain:
- Get all the breath out of your body.
- Take a little breath and hold your breath until you need more air.
- Take another small breath without exhaling.
- Repeat small breaths without exhaling until you stop breathing.
- Hold your breath for five seconds.
- Exhale all the air from your lungs forcefully.
Exercise lying on your back
Wait at least an hour after eating before doing posture or positioning exercises. Stop if you feel nauseous or if this position makes heartburn worse.
This position can help force mucus out of the lungs by gravity:
- Lie on your back.
- Keep your head straight and bend your knees.
- Support your hips with pillows so they are higher than your chest.
- Hold this position for at least five minutes.
- Try taking a few deep breaths if you like.
Side lying exercise
Wait at least an hour after eating before doing this exercise, and stop if you feel nauseous or heartburn. This exercise can help force mucus out of your lungs by gravity:
- Lie on your side.
- Keep your head straight, supporting it with your hands if necessary.
- Support your hips with a pillow so that it is higher than your chest.
- Hold this position for at least five minutes.
- Take a deep breath if you can.
- Repeat lying on the other side.
Mucus is produced by the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and elsewhere. People with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections may have a wet cough, which causes them to cough up mucus. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or home remedies or prescription medications to help you feel comfortable and clear your lungs. Breathing exercises can also help.
Get the word of drug information
Coughing is one of the symptoms that can persist with post-COVID syndrome (also known as long-term COVID). For some COVID-19 patients, coughing, fatigue, pain, and mental confusion remain with them for weeks or even months after the initial infection with COVID-19.
It is estimated that around 10% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 become COVID-19 carrier patients over long distances. One of the common long-term symptoms of COVID-19 is a cough. It is no longer infectious if the virus test is negative, but it is difficult to live with symptoms long after the infection has subsided (sometimes weeks or months).
Talk to your doctor about how you can treat your COVID-19 symptoms in the long term . If they are unaware of your concerns, consider getting a second opinion or find local hospitals that have established research centers for long-term COVID-19 patients. We are still learning about this new complication of COVID-19 and why it is happening.
The information in this article is current as of the date shown. As more research comes out, we will update this article. For the latest information on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus News page .