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Cold and Flu Center

Causes of Tightness in the Chest and Cough

author image Elle Paula
Elle Paula has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.
Causes of Tightness in the Chest and Cough
Lung disorders that cause chest tightness and cough are often managed with inhalers.

When chest tightness and cough occur together, it usually indicates an underlying lung condition. An infection in the lungs or narrowing of airways can result in difficulty breathing, which results in a feeling of chest tightness accompanied by a cough. The condition may be acute, meaning that it developed suddenly or chronic, long-lasting and developing gradually.


Asthma is a chronic lung condition characterized by the narrowing and swelling of airways as well as an increased production of mucus. Mucus accumulates in the narrowed airways, which causes the wheezing and coughing that is characteristic of asthma. In addition to wheezing and coughing, those with asthma also experience chest tightness and shortness of breath. Symptoms occur in attacks and range in severity between individuals. Some people experience minor breathing trouble whereas others may have complete airway obstruction.

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but a number of asthma attack triggers have been identified. These triggers include airborne allergens, respiratory infections, increased physical activity, cold temperatures, increased stress and certain medications, according to Asthma attacks are treated with quick-relief inhalers that provide anti-inflammatory medications and bronchodilators through the mouth. Long-term anti-inflammatory medications are also used to manage asthma while no symptoms are present.

Acute Bronchitis

The bronchial tree is a network of airways responsible for carrying air to and from the lungs. Acute bronchitis is a viral infection of the airways that make up the bronchial tree. When the airways are infected, they swell and mucus accumulates inside of them. This results in chest tightness and pressure accompanied by a mucus-filled cough and wheezing. Those with acute bronchitis may also experience sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, chills and body aches.

Because antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, there is no specific treatment for acute bronchitis. The infection usually resolves on its own within two weeks although some people may benefit from the use of temporary inhalers, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications can help reduce pain, swelling and fever.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a gradually developing lung disease that is characterized by damage to the airways or air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. The most common cause of the development of COPD is smoking, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Other causes include air pollution, chemical irritants and in rare cases, a genetic defect. The symptoms of COPD are chest tightness, a chronic mucus-filled cough, shortness of breath and wheezing. There is no cure for COPD, but medicines, such as bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories, and lifestyle changes can help improve symptoms. The cessation of smoking is the most important step in treating COPD.

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