Allergic to Dogs and Allergies in Dogs Resource

Natural Expectorants and Allergies

This series of article on natural expectorants forms part of the section concerning allergies to dogs natural allergy treatment, and as a general introduction to the topic of natural expectorants and allergies, we will initially set out a definition of the term expectorant, and then go on to explain why there is considerable confusion surrounding the term.

Future articles in this section will look at a variety of ingredients said to exhibit expectorant qualities and will provide in-depth information concerning not only their sources, functions and reported benefits but also the potential downsides and risks from taking them. Importantly, the articles will be based on relevant scientifically evaluated studies so that the reader can make an informed decision as to whether to use a particular form of treatment.

What is an Expectorant?

  • An expectorant is associated with chest congestion and is a type of mucokinetic known as a bronchomucotropic agent. Expectorants facilitate mucus clearance from the lungs, bronchi and trachea and work by increasing the volume or hydration of secretions and help to break the bonds between mucoproteins. Consequently, a greater volume of clearer, free-flowing, less viscous secretions are produced that help lubricate the respiratory tract and promote expectoration i.e. more productive coughing reduces congestion (and its associated risks) and makes breathing easier because mucus/phlegm is able to be removed more effectively and ejected orally (spat out).

The term expectorant is most commonly confused with decongestant, and for the sake of clarity the latter can be defined as:

  • A decongestant helps relieve congestion i.e. decongests, and typically refers to nasal congestion. By helping to reduce nasal passage swelling and stimulating runnier secretions, a number of allergy symptoms can be tackled; the risk of sinus headaches decreases due to less pressure in the nasal cavities, breathing is easier because nasal stuffiness is reduced, hearing problems related to clogged tubes is diminished and the risk of secondary infections is lessened because secretions are easier to expel.

Other points to note are that although:

  • An expectorant is useful for clearing chest congestion and is associated with a wet cough (one that expels exudates and secretions), by contrast, an antitussive (cough suppressant) inhibits or minimizes the cough reflex/spasms and provides relief from dry, irritating or hacking coughs. Unfortunately, though temporary relief may be obtained by suppressing a cough, the act of doing so is considered an aggravating factor of congestion.
  • Nasal and chest congestion are possible allergy symptoms, they may also develop from a non-allergy origin e.g. cold, flu or infections.
  • A decongestant and expectorant may bring symptomatic relief of congestion, reduce inflammation, make breathing easier and possibly lessen the risk, or extent, of a secondary bacterial infection, they are not a cure for an underlying illness.

Decongestant vs. Expectorant

Decongestant vs. Expectorant – Why the Confusion?

Interpreting Terms

The way different sources/websites interpret the definition of a decongestant contributes significantly the confusion surrounding these terms. Considerable variability exists, meaning that some sites use the term only in the context of nasal congestion (i.e. classic definition), whereas others take a much flexible approach and attach it to whatever helps/minimizes congestion i.e. umbrella term for anything that facilitates decongestion…thereby including both nasal and chest congestion in their thinking. The latter interpretation is problematic when one considers that, by definition, an expectorant aids productive coughing and reduces congestion associated with chest congestion, but it is not applied to the issue of nasal congestion.


Blurring of the terms has also been brought about because although it is possible to buy conventional pharmaceutical decongestant and expectorant treatments separately, many household brand name drugs used to treat congestion/respiratory problems make use of combination treatments i.e. they include both a decongestant and expectorant. Therefore, although these combination drugs may contain more than one distinct medication (each of which tackles specific tasks and areas of the body), people tend to think of them as a single entity simply by their brand name i.e. just a cough mixture to solve their troubles. Most people want instant gratification and a solution to their problems rather than dwell on the technicalities of terminology! So long as ‘brand X’ does the job, it doesn’t matter to most folk whether it’s the decongestant or expectorant component that is responsible for achieving this.

Interestingly, the range of drugs that make up the vast majority of such conventional pharmaceutical treatments is actually surprisingly limited. For example:

  • Decongestants –  Usually either pseudophedrine, phenylephrine or oxymetazoline.
  • Expectorants – Typically guaifenesin related.

Natural Ingredients

Adding to the confusion is that unlike the specific nature of a pharmaceutical decongestant or expectorant, a natural ingredient (which can contain various active compounds) or treatment may act as both a decongestant (nasal congestion) and an expectorant (chest congestion). General issues and risks associated with the use of natural ingredients are explored in-depth in the section Understanding Natural Treatments, whilst risks associated with natural expectorants is covered here.

In addition, depending on the natural decongestant or expectorant in question, they may come in various forms:

  • Liquids (e.g. brew made from ginger, lemon and honey) or solids (e.g. foods such as horseradish or hot chili peppers).
  • Effective when either ingested, applied externally or inhaled.
  • Influenced by heat, movement and posture.
  • Also used in combination treatments e.g. the expectorant qualities obtained by inhaling the vapor of boiling water containing 3 drops of hyssop oil to 12 drops of eucalyptus oil is said, by some herbalists, to be noticeably more potent than just an equivalent number of drops (i.e. 15) of eucalyptus oil

It is for these reasons that many of the techniques and approaches outlined in the section Natural Decongestants and Allergies may also apply to the issue of chest congestion and natural expectorants. In particular:

  • Natural Posture, Pressure and Movement Decongestants
    • Yoga – Correct posture may facilitate expectoration. Please see diagram within the article for a clearer explanation.
    • Sleeping – Correct posture can help prevent phlegm reentering lungs and assist expectoration.
    • Acupressure and Acupoints – Facilitating expectoration associated with chest congestion is said to be one the many benefits attributable to traditional Chinese medicine. See Chest Congestion and Acupoints contained within the article for further information.
    • Walking and exercise – Physical movement can help loosen mucus and phlegm in the chest and aid expectoration.
  • Natural Moisture and Water Decongestants
    • Steam and Vaporizers – These can help loosen mucus and phlegm in the chest and facilitate expectoration.
    • Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers – The advantages gained from softening and loosening mucus/phlegm and maintaining healthy moistened membranes needs to be balanced against the possible disadvantages of an increased risk of infection and mold if moisture levels are excessive.
  • Heat (both physical and through consuming spicy foods etc.) and the inhalation of vapors from salves can help loosen mucus and phlegm in the chest, whilst the consistency of mucus is affected by a person’s hydration. All these factors can affect expectoration and are thus applicable to the topic of natural expectorants and allergies.


Natural Expectorants and Allergies
Licorice and Allergies Licorice and Allergies
Licorice and Allergies – What it licorice, its sources, RDA, function and benefits, side effects and evidence for and against its role in treating allergies
Risks of Using natural Expectorants Risks of Using Natural Expectorants
Although natural expectorants are generally considered a safe approach to tackling congestion, it does not mean that they risk-free. Find out more

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