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Chest Hurts When I Cough: Causes and Treatments

Marion Sereti

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September 11, 2023
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

A woman holding her chest after coughing

Chest hurts when I cough - this can happen and is a complaint coughers sometimes have. Do you experience chest pain when you cough? Chest pain is any discomfort felt in the chest area. It might spread to the arms, neck, or jaw, among other places. Chest pain when you cough can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Chronic chest pain occasionally lasts for six months or even longer.

Experiencing chest pain when coughing is quite common and can occur due to the muscles in the chest being strained due to the coughing reflex. A cough can also cause chest pain if the tissue lining surrounding the lungs and chest becomes irritated, a condition known as pleurisy or pleuritis. In this case, it might be accompanied by tightness, ache, feeling of constriction, or pressure in the chest. 

However, there are multiple other potential causes of chest pain when coughing. In this article, you will comprehend why your chest, stomach, or torso generally hurts when you cough.

What Causes Your Chest To Burn When You Cough?

Feeling chest burning when you cough can be caused by various factors, some directly related to coughing. Here are a few potential causes:

Cardiovascular Problems

Chest pain is commonly associated with heart-related issues or other heart conditions. The pain may feel like pressure, tightness, or a squeezing sensation, often radiating to the left arm, jaw, or back. Some of these cardiovascular issues include:

  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction) A heart attack happens when blood supply to specific sections of the heart muscle is restricted. Chest pain during a heart attack is usually severe and prolonged, often accompanied by other symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and pain radiating to the arms, back, stomach, or jaw.
    • When this happens, consider it a medical emergency – immediate medical attention is necessary. 
  • Pericarditis – This is a medical condition of the inflammation of the pericardium, the sac-like membrane surrounding the heart. It can cause chest pain that is sharp and stabbing, typically worsened by deep breathing or coughing. The pain may radiate to the left shoulder or neck. 
  • Angina – This refers to chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. Typically, angina pain is dull or heavy. It is triggered by physical effort or stress, both of which coughing can cause.

You must seek immediate medical attention if you suspect any heart-related cause.

Respiratory Infections and Conditions 

When infections attack your body, they can irritate the airways, which can lead to inflammation and cause a burning sensation in the chest when coughing.

This pain is usually accompanied by coughing, shortness of breath, and other respiratory symptoms:

Asthma

This chronic condition is marked by inflammation and airway constriction. Coughing is a typical asthma symptom; the accompanying inflammation can cause a burning feeling in the chest during coughing episodes.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

A progressive lung condition that primarily includes emphysema (shortness of breath) and chronic bronchitis. In COPD, the airways become narrowed, and coughing becomes more common as narrower airways are more easily blocked. The inflammation and damage to the airways can cause a burning sensation during coughing.

Pneumonia

When you have pneumonia, your lungs fill up with more pus and fluid than usual, making you cough a lot. And when you have a persistent cough, it can cause pain in your chest through muscle stress and inflammation.

Bronchitis

When you have a chest cold, also called acute bronchitis, it means the tubes in swell and make too much mucus((Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis). ¦ Antibiotic Use ¦ CDC. Retrived 1st September 2023 from https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/bronchitis.html)). That extra mucus and inflammation can make you feel like your lungs burn when coughing.

Pulmonary Embolism

When a blood clot gets into one of your lungs’ blood vessels, it causes a pulmonary embolism. This can make it hard to breathe, cause pain in your chest that gets worse when breathing in, and make you cough. Sometimes, you might cough up sputum with streaks of blood in it. A pulmonary embolism is very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.

Lung Cancer

As lung cancer progresses, you may feel tightness or pain in your chest, difficulty breathing, and a persistent cough that produces blood. Any cough that lasts for more than three weeks should be investigated as potential cancer, regardless of whether you experience chest pain when coughing or not.

Gastrointestinal Problems 

Certain gastrointestinal conditions or digestive issues may cause stomach pain that worsens during coughing. These conditions often result in a burning or squeezing sensation in the middle or upper chest, exacerbated by eating certain foods, lying down, or by the forceful movement of coughing.

Examples of conditions that cause the stomach to hurt when you cough include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – GERD occurs when stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus(the food pipe), leading to irritation and inflammation. Coughing can trigger acid reflux, causing a burning sensation in the chest, commonly known as heartburn.
  • Gastritis – Inflammation of the stomach lining.
  • Peptic ulcers – These are open sores that form in the stomach lining, upper small intestine (duodenum), or esophagus. If such an ulcer forms in the esophagus, you may have difficulty swallowing and experience acid reflux which causes coughing and chest pain.

Allergies

Coughing can be triggered as a response to allergens in allergic reactions, such as hay fever or allergic asthma. During coughing episodes, the lung inflammation caused by allergies can lead to a burning sensation in the chest.

Smoking 

Chronic smoking can lead to respiratory issues such as chronic bronchitis and damage to the lung tissue. Coughing is a common symptom in smokers, and the irritation and inflammation caused by smoking can result in chest burning during coughing episodes.

Musculoskeletal Issues

Chest pain can be related to problems in the muscles, ribs, or joints in the chest. Conditions like muscle strains, costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone), or rib fractures((Hanak, V., Hartman, T. E., & Ryu, J. H. (2005). Cough-induced rib fractures. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 80(7), 879–882. https://doi.org/10.4065/80.7.879)) can cause localized chest pain that worsens with movement, deep breathing, or coughing fits. A sudden stabbing pain during or soon after a coughing fit may indicate that you’ve fractured a rib while coughing.

Treatments for When Your Chest Burns When You Cough

The treatment for chest pain and cough will depend on what's causing them. A healthcare provider will conduct various tests to determine what's happening inside your chest. They might order imaging tests, pulmonary function tests, a bronchoscopy, an Uultrasound, a sputum test, or a complete blood count.

Here are some common treatments that your doctor could prescribe:

  • Over-the-counter medications – There's no specific cure for a viral infection like the flu or acute viral bronchitis. You'll need to let the virus run its course. However, over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms like fever, body aches, and coughing and make the course of the illness more bearable.
  • Antibiotics – When facing a bacterial infection such as pneumonia or specific types of bronchitis, your doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. To treat the condition thoroughly, completing the entire prescribed dose of antibiotics is essential, even if you start experiencing improvement.
  • Bronchodilators – Chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma require a personalized treatment approach based on the severity of symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe bronchodilators to help with breathlessness and inhalers (short-acting or long-acting) for asthma.
  • Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, which is a potential cause of burning in the chest when coughing. They can treat infections causing pericarditis (inflammation around the heart) or interstitial lung disease (lung disease affecting the fluid and spaces around the air sacs in the lungs).
  • Blood thinners – Treatment for pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lungs, involves blood thinners to prevent further clotting. 
  • Chemotherapy – If lung cancer is the reason for the chest pain when coughing, chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy may shrink the tumor.
  • Surgery – Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remove a particularly large blood clot in a case of pulmonary embolism or a cancerous tumor. 
  • Oxygen therapy – This is also referred to as supplemental oxygen. It improves blood oxygen levels; certain lung conditions that lead to chest burning when coughing also lead to a low blood oxygen level (hypoxia). Therefore, treating your chest pains when coughing may also require treating hypoxia with oxygen therapy.

These are general treatments for a chest that burns when you cough You must consult a healthcare professional to receive the correct treatment and guidance for your specific condition.

Managing Chest Pain When Coughing

The main way to manage chest pain when you cough is to reduce the amount and severity when you do. Some remedies you can adopt are:

  • Smoke and other air pollutants can worsen coughing and increase chest pain. Join a smoking cessation program with your doctor to assist you to quit if you are a smoker. Whether you smoke or not, steer clear of secondhand smoke.
  • Stay hydrated, particularly by drinking warm liquids. Consuming warm water or hot tea can relieve soreness in your throat, which can help ease a persistent cough. 
  • Make sure to get sufficient rest to help your body recover.
  • Over-the-counter painkillers are useful if your cough-induced chest burning is from something that takes a long time to heal, like a rib fracture. Some also reduce fever, which may be necessary if you have an infection.
  • Try steam inhalation with a steam bath or hot shower to help loosen the mucus in your chest.
  • Similarly, consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, reducing dryness in your throat and lungs. The additional moisture can assist in thinning or loosening the mucus in your throat, meaning you don’t have to cough as hard or often.
  • It is crucial to remain at home, avoiding work or school, until your symptoms subside.

Conclusion

Chest pain can occur for various reasons. The pain may radiate to your back and arms. It can manifest as a sensation of tightness, achiness, or sharpness, among other feelings. Reasons for chest pain include heart problems. Therefore, taking chest pain when you cough seriously and seeking prompt medical attention is crucial. 

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    App is great at tracking cough when little ones are sick. I treat it as a early warning indicator before the cold gets back. Customer service is awesome, they actually respond to all my questions.
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    I had an issue logging into the new app but I contacted the support team and they were awesome in helping me figure out the issue. It turned out to be a technical issue which they resolved very quickly and I was kept in the loop on the status from start to finish. This app is really helpful when talking to my doctor too..
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    "The app accurately is recording my coughs with excellent ways to review the results. I can add notes to help me identify patterns or have accurate information for my physicians. I’ve hoped for an app like this for years to help me accurately track the amount of coughing I’m doing"
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    Just installed the app. Very accurate measuring coughs so far! Cannot wait to see how much coughing I do while sleeping. I'll have a better picture to discuss with my physician at my next visit.

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