What Are the Causes of Chest Congestion?

Chest congestion is an accumulation of fluids and mucus in the lungs, which can cause symptoms of pain, discomfort, tenderness, coughing and difficulty breathing. Chest congestion can be a sign of a serious heart or lung illness or disorder that requires urgent medical treatment. Chest congestion can produce both a productive (mucus-expelling) cough or a dry cough. In some cases, chest congestion can be diagnosed by listening to the breathing sounds and x-ray images of the chest.

A male doctor looking at a chest x-ray. Credit: Remains/iStock/Getty Images


Bronchitis is a bacterial or viral inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the bronchial tubes or primary airways within the lungs. MayoClinic.com advises that acute bronchitis can develop from other respiratory infections, such as a common cold, while chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition caused by consistent lung irritation -- often due to cigarette smoking. Any type of bronchitis can lead to the production of large amounts of mucus that fill some areas of the lungs, hindering normal respiration and causing chest congestion.


A bacterial, viral, parasitic or fungal infection can lead to a pneumonia infection in the lungs. This illness can also be caused by autoimmune reactions. Pneumonia leads to symptoms such as fever, fatigue, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing and chest congestion. MayoClinic.com reports that a pneumonia infection can vary from mild to life-threatening and can be complicated by other health conditions, such as a weak immune system.


Tuberculosis is an infection of the lungs caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that this bacterial infection can attack the lungs as well as the kidneys, brain and spine. In the lungs, tuberculosis can cause severe coughing, pain, difficulty breathing and chest congestion. Left untreated, this disease can be fatal.

Congestive Heart Failure

According to the College of Medicine at Penn State, congestive heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood effectively through the body. A primary symptom of this type of heart failure is lung congestion, which occurs as fluid accumulates in the lungs.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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