Painful respiration is an unpleasant sensation ranging from mild discomfort to unbearable agony while breathing.

Alternative Names

Painful breathing, chest pain on breathing, painful respiration, painful respiratory movement.


Painful respirations may be an indicator of a serious underlying medical problem requiring prompt medical intervention. For any unexplained chest pain or if there is difficulty breathing immediate medial attention is generally required. If painful respirations accompany a known chronic illness, such as asthma or COPD, which is otherwise well controlled, the pain may be controlled with over-the-counter analgesics. Discuss painful respirations with your doctor if you have a chronic illness that results in occasional bouts of painful breathing.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Burns (inhalation injury)
  • Pneumonia
  • Pleurisy
  • Pneumothorax
  • SARS
  • Emphysema
  • Empyema
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pericarditis
  • Pulmonary embolism

Diagnosis and Treatments

A complete history and physical by a qualified provider to assess and treat any underlying condition will be needed to determine the cause of painful respirations. Additional diagnostic studies may include chest x-rays or CT scan. Treatment will depend on the findings.

Call your provider :

Immediately for any unexplained chest pain or new (or increasing) breathing difficulties.

Call 911:

For any sudden onset of painful respirations or chest pain, especially if accompanied by:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nasal flaring
  • Air hunger
  • Gasping for breath
  • Choking
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Sweating profusely
  • Pallor (pale skin)
  • Cyanosis (skin turns blue)
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever