An effective naturopathic home treatment for chest congestion, bronchitis, or pneumonia
When I met the Wendy’s Eating Boyfriend at Penn State, one of the first things I learned about him was that he had a coughing problem. I also learned that he didn’t start eating sandwiches until high school because he couldn’t handle his food being mixed together. But that story is for a different day.
Several years later when we lived in Seattle, one of our former landlords who lived above us, told us that the only noise they ever heard coming from our apartment was the Wendy’s Eating Husband’s cough. We thought they’d hear the baby crying. Nope. They didn’t hear the baby. They heard the Wendy’s Eating Husband coughing.
When the Wendy’s Eating Husband started working at his current job a few years ago, his co-workers were commenting to each other this exact phrase, “the new guy sure does cough a lot!”.
When your co-workers start calling you “the cougher” behind your back, what that really means is that you have a lung problem and it’s annoying everybody, including your boss. If it’s your family pointing out your issues, you can usually ignore that. But once you have people at work talking about the “things you need to work on” at the water cooler, you have got a serious situation.
The good news is that you can do something about this. You can go to the doctor. I know that may sound foreign to some of you who haven’t stepped into a doctor’s office since you had your mandated teenage sports physical (and understandably so).
You have to go to the doctor to make sure your cough isn’t going to kill you. It would be very important to know if you had some rare lung disease or lung cancer. You should not be using the treatment I’m about to introduce to you for lung cancer or pleuritis. However, if the doctor confirms a basic productive cough from the common cold, bronchitis, or pneumonia, you have the golden ticket to utilize this topical natural cough remedy.
I’m not saying anything about whether or not you should use antibiotics or that this should be used as a substitute for antibiotics. That really is a case by case decision that only your doctor can make. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, then take them. You can still use this at-home treatment while you are on antibiotics.
This naturopathic cough treatment works wonders for chest congestion and tightness. I prescribe it for all ages, but I really like this treatment for toddlers. Sometimes, you can do all the song and dance in the world, and you just can’t get your toddler to swallow the magical cough potion. But, you can get your tired toddler to lay down before bed. Laying down is easier than forcing a child to swallow something they don’t like, especially when the child doesn’t feel well.
I gave this cough treatment to my four year old daughter last fall when she had bronchitis — once a day for several nights in a row, immediately before bed. She enjoyed it so much that she started asking for it! Note that both kids and adults alike do wince when the cold towel is placed on the chest, as you can see my daughter in the photo below.
This natural cough therapy, which I have named Barking Lung Cough Therapy, is all done externally, directly over the chest where the lungs reside. First, a homemade chest rub with thyme essential oil is heavily slathered all over the chest. Thyme is my favorite herb for both viral and bacterial chest infections. You can read more about thyme’s benefits here.
Then, a very hot towel (as hot as possible to touch but not hot enough to burn) is placed on top of the chest rub, on the chest, to help open skin pores for optimal tissue absorption of the thyme essential oil. To trap the heat, the hot towel is immediately covered with the Vellux blanket, the sheet, and then the wool blanket. The hot towel stays in place for 3 minutes.
After the hot phase, the hot towel is removed and very quickly replaced with an icy cold towel. Then, the cold towel is covered with a Vellux blanket, a sheet, and a wool blanket (in that order) to warm up the person receiving treatment. The cold towel is removed once the person warms it up (usually about 10-15 minutes). I like ending on cold because it has a vasoconstrictive effect that can help relieve congestion. I used to recommend this therapy as a hot application only, but have more recently added the cold phase to enhance the benefits. The contrasting hot/cold helps to stimulate the immune system.
Using opposing temperatures of water, right after the other, is a special type of water therapy known as contrast hydrotherapy. Water therapy or hydrotherapy is a natural healing modality that utilizes water to help your body heal naturally. Barking Lung Cough Therapy is a modified version of the “official” contrast hydrotherapy protocols I’ve learned in school. Most contrast hydrotherapy protocols do a repetition of hot followed by cold for three cycles.
Contrast hydrotherapy, particularly when applied to the chest, stimulates your vital force. The term “vital force” sounds a little like new age woo, but it is a foundational concept in naturopathic medicine. It falls under one of the principles of naturopathic medicine — the vis medicatrix naturae. The vital force is the healing power of nature inside your body. It is the thing inside you that is constantly working for your wellness. Without the vital force, you would be dead.
This is a low force, non-toxic, gentle intervention. It is very easy to do, and very safe given that you do not overdose on the essential oil and you don’t burn anybody with a hot towel. I usually recommend that Barking Lung Cough Therapy be done on a once daily basis before bed, until the cough resolves. For more severe cases, I have recommended for it to be done twice a day.
Barking Lung Cough Therapy
A powerful home hydrotherapy treatment for a productive cough, chest congestion, bronchitis, or pneumonia
How to use this therapy:
Once a day before bed until the cough resolves.
For more severe cases, this therapy can be done twice a day.
This is a temporary treatment and not meant for the long term. If your cough doesn’t resolve within 7-10 days, you need to see a physician.
You should not use this therapy if:
- you have pleuritis
- you have lung cancer
- you have a neurological disease that affects your ability to sense temperature
- you have congestive heart failure
- you are in an acute asthma attack
- you have Type 2 Diabetes and you have decreased temperature sensation
- extra virgin coconut oil
- thyme essential oil (preferably organic)
- 2 large wash cloths or small towels (big enough to cover the chest of the person receiving the treatment)
- hot water source and/or bowl of hot water
- bowl of ice cold water
- Vellux or other non-cotton blanket
- cotton sheet
- wool blanket
The treatment moves fast, so get everything ready to go.
Make the Barking Lung Chest Rub by placing 1-4 drops of organic thyme essential oil in 1 teaspoon of coconut oil. Dose the drops according to body size. Use less drops for a child, more for an adult. If you have leftover Barking Lung Chest Rub, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
A Note About Dosing: A 1/2 teaspoon of the Barking Lung Chest Rub is plenty for a child while 1 teaspoon is plenty for an adult. Generally, I aim for 1 drop per chest treatment for kids and 2 drops per chest treatment for adults. If a child will only use 1/2 teaspoon of the oil, I usually recommend 2 drops of essential oil per teaspoon, so that the child receives 1 drop per treatment (1 drop per 1/2 teaspoon applied). If a small adult will only use 1/2 teaspoon of the oil, I usually recommend 4 drops per teaspoon so that the adult can get 2 drops per treatment.
Prepare a bowl of ice water. Place one of the towels in the bowl.
Prepare a bowl of hot water or have a hot water source nearby with a hot towel ready to go. The towel should be as hot as possible, but not hot enough to burn the skin.
Some people could be allergic to the thyme essential oil. It is best to test a small area of the skin with the Barking Lung Chest Rub prior to slathering it all over the chest and covering it with a hot towel. If there is an allergy, Barking Lung Cough Therapy could make it worse.
1. The Chest Rub
Generously slather the chest with Barking Lung Chest Rub
2. The Hot Phase
Prior to placing the hot towel on the chest, make sure it is not hot enough to burn the skin. Wring out the water as you do not want it dripping wet. Place hot towel on the chest. Immediately cover the chest with the vellux blanket, the sheet, and then the wool blanket to keep the heat in. Keep in place for 3 minutes.
3. The Cold Phase
Pull the blankets down while keeping the hot towel in place. Wring out the cold towel so that it is not dripping. Cover the hot towel with the cold towel, and flip, leaving the icy cold towel in place and removing the hot towel. Cover the cold towel with the Vellux blanket, the sheet, and the wool blanket (in that order). Leave it in place until the person warms up the cold towel (this could be anywhere from 5-15 minutes). Make sure the person’s entire body is covered in the blankets as you want them to stay warm and ensure they do not get chilled.
Watch the hyperlapse video below to see how I did it!