What Causes Tightness in Chest and Cough?

People tend to experience cough and tight chest all at the same time. The occurrence of these symptoms usually indicates health-related issues such as an underlying lung condition. In some cases, it may be accompanied by other symptoms, including the difficulty of breathing which may develop suddenly or gradually depending on the infection that occurs. It is important to know and understand the causes of these conditions in order to determine the proper care and treatment.

What Causes Tight Chest and Cough?

These two symptoms that shouldn’t be taken for granted as these may be signs of a serious medical condition. Some of the possible causes include the following.

1. Esophageal spasm

Esophageal spasm is a painful and sudden contraction in the muscles of the esophagus. This can last for a few minutes especially with people who are suffering from heartburn. The possible cause of this condition is still unknown. However, it may be triggered by swallowing a pill or a large chunk of food and drinking very hot or cold drinks.


  • Intense chest pain
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty or pain in swallowing
  • Cough


  • Nitroglycerin tablets
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Antidepressants
  • Muscle relaxant drugs
  • Surgery

2. Influenza

Influenza is a respiratory tract infection that is caused by a virus. This condition can easily spread from one person to another. Young children, pregnant women, and the elderly are at high risk for flu and its complications including pneumonia.


  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Muscle and chest pain
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Chills and sweats
  • Weakness and fatigue


  • Complete bed rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Inhaling steam
  • Antiviral medications
  • Antihistamines and decongestants

3. Whooping Cough

A whooping cough is a contagious respiratory infection that is usually spread from one person to another through coughing or sneezing. This is caused by a bacterium known as Bordetella pertussis. It can be life-threatening especially for babies and children.


  • Severe cough
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Red and watery eyes


  • Antibiotics to kill bacteria causing cough
  • Over the counter drugs to relieve a cough

4. Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is a viral infection that affects the airways that make up the bronchial tree. This network of airways is responsible for carrying air to the lungs. It may be caused by contagious pathogens including respiratory viruses, influenza, and others.


  • Tight chest and cough with mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Body aches and fatigue


There is no specific treatment for acute bronchitis since antibiotic is infective against viruses. It usually resolves on its own within a week or two. Some people may use the following to reduce or relieve pain:

  • Temporary inhalers
  • Over the counter pain relievers
  • Anti-inflammatory medications

5. Heartburn or GERD

Heartburn usually occurs when the stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, causing irritation in the lining. When this condition frequently happens, it is called GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disorder. Over time, this condition can increase the risk of esophageal cancer and other health problems.


  • Burning sensation in the chest, throat, and mouth
  • Nausea after eating
  • Feeling that food is trapped in the throat
  • Dry cough
  • Chest pain
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Hiccups


  • Over the counter antacids
  • Medications to help reduce stomach acid
  • Surgery and other medical procedures

6. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is a gradually developing lung disease that is characterized by the damage of the air sacs in the lungs known as alveoli. The primary cause of the occurrence of this condition is smoking. Other causes of COPD may include air pollution, chemical irritants, and genetic defects.


  • Chest tightness
  • Mucus fill cough
  • Shortness of breath especially during physical activities
  • Wheezing
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Fatigue and lack of energy


  • Smoking cessation
  • Medications including Bronchodilators, Steroids and Antibiotics
  • Lung therapies including Oxygen therapy
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation program

7. Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition that is commonly characterized by the narrowing and swelling of the air passages. It is also associated with the accumulation and increased production of mucus in the narrowed airways. The exact cause of this condition is unknown but has been identified to be triggered by airborne allergens, respiratory infections, increased physical activity and stress, extreme temperatures, and certain medications. Asthma is a lifelong condition that can be managed but is not totally cured.


  • Tight chest and cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased mucus production


  • Quick relief or rescue medications including inhalers
  • Long-term control medications
  • Allergy treatments

8. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can either be viral or bacterial. It affects the air sacs in one or both lungs through the filling of fluids or pus. This condition can be mild to life-threatening in terms of seriousness. People who are older than 65, infants and those with the weakened immune system have higher risks of obtaining this disease.


  • Chest pain
  • Cough with phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Fever and sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting


  • Antibiotics
  • Cough medicine
  • Pain relievers

9. Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis or TB is a chronic disease that is caused by bacteria. It affects the lungs and other areas of the body including the brain, intestines, kidneys, and spine. Those who have a weak immune system are at higher risk to TB infection. At times, this disease doesn’t have any symptoms and are not contagious. However, it can become active, later causing sickness.


  • Bad cough which at time comes with blood
  • Chest pain
  • Night sweats
  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss


  • Medications which is normally taken for 6 months or more. This includes Isoniazid, Rifampin, Ethambutol and Pyrazinamide.

10.  Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a condition wherein blood clot is formed in the vein. This usually occurs in the calf and then travels to the lungs where it lodges. It can be fatal and needs emergency attention and treatments.


  • Shortness or rapid breathing
  • Chest pain radiating to the neck, jaw, shoulder, or arm
  • Coughing which sometimes comes with blood
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness and fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid heartbeat


  • Anticoagulant medications
  • Extraction of the clot using a catheter
  • Surgery
  • Vena cava filter

Tight chest and cough are two symptoms that should not be taken for granted as it may be an indication of a more serious medical disease. It is best to see a doctor once these symptoms occur for proper diagnosis and better treatments.

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