In your lungs, there are two main airways that branch off on both sides of your trachea called bronchi. When these airways become infected, the subsequent inflammation and irritation is called bronchitis.1 When you’re suffering from bronchitis, your irritated and inflamed airway will produce more mucus than normal, which your body will try to eliminate via coughing.1 So, if you’re experiencing chest congestion and coughing, bronchitis might be a potential cause. There are two types of bronchitis: acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is a temporary condition that lasts up to three weeks, whereas chronic bronchitis lasts for three months per year, for at least two years in a row.1 In addition to feelings of congestion in chest and an ongoing cough, common symptoms of bronchitis include sore throat, headache, runny or stuffy nose, aches and pains, and feelings of tiredness.1 If you’re worried that you may have either type of bronchitis, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what you can do to get relief.
Similar to bronchitis, a chest infection is an infection of the lungs or main airways that can cause discomfort and feelings of chest tightness and congestion. Typically, chest infections will follow a bout of the flu or a cold, with symptoms including cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, chest pain or discomfort, fever, headache, muscle aches, and feelings of tiredness. Although having a chest infection can be uncomfortable, most cases are not cause for major concern, and the symptoms will clear up on their own in seven to ten days.2 If you think you have a chest infection, make sure to get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated. You can also ask your doctor about using a decongestant to help break up the mucus in your lungs.
The Common Cold
You’re probably already familiar with the symptoms of the common cold: runny nose, sore throat, or just general malaise. What you might not know, however, is that chest congestion and cough can also be symptoms of this common illness. The common cold is caused by a viral infection in your upper respiratory tract, which includes your nose and throat.3 Beyond a runny nose and the aforementioned congestion in chest, the symptoms of a cold can include sneezing, body aches, mild headache, and low-grade fever.3 If you suspect you have a cold, the best thing to do is get some rest and wait it out. Symptoms of the common cold generally pass in seven to ten days (or slightly longer if you’re a smoker).3 If your symptoms continue to get worse, or you experience high fever, wheezing, or severe pain, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
There are many different experiences of asthma, ranging from mild to severe. On the most basic level, asthma is a chronic condition in which your airways narrow, swell, and sometimes product excess mucus.4 Having difficulty breathing, wheezing, and experiencing feelings of chest congestion or shortness of breath can be symptoms of asthma.4 Because asthma is a chronic condition that does not have a cure, it’s important to talk to your doctor about managing your symptoms.4 These symptoms may be triggered or made worse by a number of causes, including having a respiratory virus like the cold or flu, exercising, especially when the air is cold and dry, or coming into contact with environmental irritants both natural and chemical, including chemical fumes, dust, pet dander, pollen, and mold spores.4 Your doctor may prescribe a long-term treatment like use of an inhaler, quick-relief medications like short-acting beta agonists or corticosteroids, or allergy medication. Although asthma can be uncomfortable, there are numerous treatments and solutions to keep your symptoms manageable.
Pneumonia, an infection that causes the air sacs in one or both lungs to become inflamed, is a more serious cause of chest congestion and cough. When you have pneumonia, the inflamed air sacs in your lungs may fill with fluid or pus and cause a cough with phlegm and difficulty breathing. Pneumonia can be viral, bacterial, or caused by fungi.5 Depending on the severity of your case and the presence of underlying health conditions, the symptoms of pneumonia may include chest pain when you breath or cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath, cough, fatigue, fever, sweating, chills, mental confusion, or a body temperature that’s lower than normal.5 Children under the age of two and adults over 65 are the two highest-risk groups for pneumonia, as well as those who smoke, those with chronic disease such as asthma or heart disease, and those with weakened or suppressed immune systems.5 If you experience any of the above symptoms and believe you may have pneumonia, talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Chest congestion and cough are uncomfortable and can be symptoms of more serious conditions. It’s important to talk to your doctor to find a treatment that’s right for you. For more information on cold and flu symptoms and how to treat them, explore Theraflu Frequently Asked Cold & Flu Questions.
1. Bronchitis. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bronchitis/. Accessed 07/01/20.
2. Chest infection. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chest-infection/. Accessed 07/01/20.
3. Common cold. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/common-cold/symptoms-causes/syc-20351605. Accessed 07/01/20.
4. Asthma. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653. Accessed 07/01/20.
5. Pneumonia. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354204. Accessed 07/01/20.