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6 Main Chest Congestion Causes

chest congestion, common cold, chest, chest painChest congestion – that annoying tightness you feel in your chest, under and around your breast bone. It’s a common symptom of many respiratory ailments, but when could it be a sign of something more serious? Let’s take a look…

What is Chest Congestion?

If we asked 10 different people to define chest congestion, we’d probably get 10 different answers. Put simply, chest congestion is a non-medical term for a build-up of fluids and mucus in the lungs. Your chest may feel heavy and stiff. There may be pain when you try to take a deep breath.  You may, or may not, have a cough that produces mucus. You may even have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.[1] But what illness or disease causes these symptoms?

Chest Congestion Causes

To follow are the 6 main causes of chest congestion:

Common Cold

Colds are the most common cause of chest congestion. They may be accompanied by a sore throat, runny, stuffy nose, sneezing and coughing up large amounts of mucus. With plenty of rest and fluids and perhaps some of grandma’s chicken soup, your cold symptoms will usually resolve on their own in about 10 days, although some colds can last longer.


Pollen – dust – pet dander – triggers like these cause allergies, another common cause of chest congestion. Other symptoms may include itchy, watery eyes, sneezing and wheezing. Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance that’s usually harmless to most people. Relief from allergies may be obtained through over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants. Allergy shots may also help.1


Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus. You may start off with flu-like symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest congestion, coughing up green, yellow or bloody mucus, fever and chills. Most of the time, pneumonia can be treated at home. But for older adults and people with underlying health conditions, pneumonia can be quite serious and may have to be treated with intravenous antibiotics in the hospital.1
chest congestion, bronchitis, bronchi, chest, chest pain


Bronchitis causes inflammation and swelling of the bronchial tubes, the passageways by which air flows through the nose or mouth to the alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs. There are two kinds of bronchitis: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term). Acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection, comes on suddenly and usually resolves itself in a matter of weeks. Chronic bronchitis is mainly caused by smoking, has an insidious onset and is irreversible, although treatment can help manage symptoms. Signs and symptoms of both types of bronchitis include chest congestion, cough with mucus production, wheezing, shortness of breath and fatigue.[2]


Tuberculosis, or TB for short, is caused by a bacterium known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It spreads from person-to-person through droplets in the air. Symptoms include cough with mucus production that is sometimes bloody, chest pain, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. TB is a curable and preventable disease that’s treated with a standard 6-month course of 4 different antimicrobial drugs.[3]

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

CHF, or heart failure, occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the continuous demands of the body. This causes blood and fluid to back up in the lungs as well as fluid build-up in the feet, ankles and legs (edema). Additional symptoms of CHF include shortness of breath, chest congestion and fatigue. Common causes of CHF include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. This illness is most common in people over 65, African Americans, people who are overweight and people who’ve had a heart attack. Men are more prone to CHF than women. Treatment focuses on the underlying cause, medication, fluid restriction and heart transplant, if standard treatment options fail.[4]

When Should You Call the Doctor About Chest Congestion?

chest congestion, x-ray, chest, chest painThe good news about the common cold is that over time, your symptoms tend to improve. One sign that you should see a doctor is when your symptoms get worse over time, not better. Other symptoms that warrant a call to the doctor include:[5]

  • Chest pain or pressure that doesn’t go away with rest
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Prolonged high fever (over 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Cough that lasts longer than 10 days
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Fainting or feeling like you’re going to faint
  • Cold symptoms that lasts longer than 10-14 days

If you’re not sure whether you should call a doctor about your symptoms, err on the side of caution and call. Staff at your doctor’s office will be able to help determine whether or not you should see a doctor.


[1] WebMD. Why Is It Hard for Me to Breathe? Last reviewed February 20, 2018.

[2] WebMD. Bronchitis Diagnosis and Treatment: What to Know. Last reviewed on December 23, 2018.

[3] World Health Organization. Tuberculosis Fact Sheet. Updated September 18, 2018

[4] U.S. National Library of Medicine. Heart Failure. Updated April 8, 2019.

[5] Health Central. 8 Signs You Should See a Doctor About a Cold. March 28, 2012.

28 thoughts on “6 Main Chest Congestion Causes”

  1. Avatar Joanne Walker says:

    I have a tightness in my neck near where my thyroid gland is. Have difficulty breathing fully, have nausea sometimes, b ut no vomiting. Feel light headed. This comes and goes sometimes in remissions for months only to reappear.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Joanne, We're sorry to hear about the symptoms you are experiencing. Nausea and light-headedness can be caused for a variety of health reasons. Please consult your primary care doctor about your symptoms as she or he is familiar with your medical history and will be able to diagnosis you.

  2. Avatar sharon fendrick says:

    Very good information on COPD. May help a lot of us who have it.

  3. Avatar cynthia rydzenski says:

    Glad to get any info on COPD. I enclosed my e-mail for
    future info.

  4. Avatar Luci says:

    Pneumonia should never be treated at home. The longer you go with out medical treatment the worse it gets.

  5. Avatar Owen Lee says:

    I have a shortness of breath when I speak, especially when I speak a lot or feel exciting about something. I went to the hospital and did several inspection of heart disease and lung, but It did't find out any serious issue. A month has go by, but the symptoms still exist on me. GOD BLESS ME, WHAT'S WRONG WITH MY BODY!

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Owen, We're sorry to hear about your symptoms and we hope you find a diagnosis soon! We understand how frustrating it can be to have unexplained symptoms. Unfortunately we are not familiar with diseases that cause the symptoms you mentioned and because we are not your primary care doctor we are not able to offer you a diagnosis.

  6. Avatar Iqa says:

    Hi..im experiencing episodic chest tightness. Dr. told me tht i hv inflammed nose lining. Im also experiencing headache and difficulty breathing at times. I dont hv runny nose, sneezing or coughing symptom. This has been going on for almost 2 months. But when i go to the doctor, they will only give me meds to treat allergic and gave me a saline nose drip but i still feel chest tightness and difficulty breathing. Should I be concern about my condition and refer to an ent specialist?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Dear Iqa,
      We're sorry to hear you are in such discomfort. It is always a good idea to discuss this with your doctor if you are concerned and ask for a referral. The worst they can say is NO.
      We hope you feel better soon.

  7. Avatar Inara Mitchell says:

    I have been suffering with nasal congestion for over a year. When breathing I feel bubbles popping in my nose and lungs. I do a neti pot with no long term help. My doctor has me on Azthromycin and prednesone for 5 days I feel my nose swelling during the day. I also have advair disc and spiriva in the am and pm. HELP! I am 73.

  8. Avatar errol e mcdonald says:

    I wake myself up with congestion that seems like in my throat; this lasts for about three minutes then goes away.I don't experience this any other time of the day. should i elevate my head?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Errol,
      We suggest you speak to your doctor about this issue, but elevation could help alleviate the symptoms.

  9. Avatar Jennifer Armas says:

    I often get heavy chest congestion from a simple cold. I get bronchitis 2-3 times per year and it takes weeks to get rid of the heavy mucous congestion. I worry because my grandfather died in his early 50's from emphasima. He never smoked; however he worked on the railroads and steel manufacturing plants in the 1930's-1950's. I often wonder if I have lung problems. I am in my early 40's.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Jennifer,
      I suggest talking to your primary care physician next time you experience these symptoms and ask their advice. We have an article on mucus that you might find useful interesting.

  10. Avatar Charlene Turner says:

    I experience difficulty breathing. I also wheeze. When I close my mouth and force air into my diaphragm and exhale through my nose, I force myself to cough productively and some of the congestion goes away. This has been going on for at least 2 yrs. This condition comes and goes. It may last for 3 to 4 months and then suddenly disappear.

  11. Avatar jodi sawatzke says:

    I have gotten this 3 times in 6 months, symptons are chest congestion, cough aches and pains ……I m only concern due to the fact that this is the 3rd time.

  12. Avatar Ian says:

    So I’ve had a stuffy nose and I been sneezing and I been coughing up yellow and clear mucus it’s definitely chest congestion should I be worried at all? It’s been 5 time me feeling like this

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Ian,
      Sorry to hear you are feeling under the weather. I suggest you speak with your doctor if this continues to persist. Feel better soon!

  13. Avatar Beverly Leslie says:

    What do you do with the extra cannula when shopping etc.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Beverly, Are you referring to the extra tubing that attaches to the cannula? Some people loop and clip it loosely. We do offer a 4 foot cannula on our website under accessories if that would help your situation. Thanks!

  14. Avatar Steven says:

    Im 27 I woke up today to a pain in my chest and it herts to breath when I bend anyway my chest tightens up and herts I'm a smoker been smokin for about13 years and never felt like this what do u think it could be

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Steven, I hope you are feeling better today when you woke up. I suggest you visit a medical professional for an exam.

  15. Avatar Jessica says:

    It feels as if I have congestion in my chest but I'm not coughing. My chest feels a little tight. I did have a little bit of sneezing with itching of the throat.

  16. Avatar Kim says:

    I've had chest congestion with some wheezing as well as frequent lightheadedness and fatigue for the past week. No chest pain or tightness noted but I'm bringing up some small bits of green phlegm and I've got a fair amount of sinus drainage that results in a cough. Two bouts of nausea but no vomiting. I'm wondering if it's walking pneumonia or pleurisy? Not thinking heart-related but possibly?

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Kim, Best to have a doctor check it out for you so you can effectively treat it. I hope you feel better soon.

  17. Avatar Jatinder says:

    Hello I have shortness of breath problems last two weeks .doctor give me sinucus spray .its give me some relief but again same I feel my chest not free with take breath not take deep breath .and many yawns some complete some not .when yawn and breath complete i free free otherwise irritate me.please help and let me know what i can do .
    I tried also chest congestion and mucus syrup but not too much difference.

    1. Inogen Inogen says:

      Hi Jatinder, I am not a medical professional, so cannot offer specific advice. The best route would be to discuss this with your doctor and maybe request to see a Pulmunologist for an examination.

  18. Avatar Eternity says:

    I always have a severe tighness within my chest but I don't cough

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