A variety of conditions, from pneumonia to lung cancer, could cause chest pain and a cough. Some conditions may improve on their own, while others will need medical treatment.
A simple cough may be caused by the common cold, throat irritation, or allergies.
To help you narrow down the exact cause, check out this list of 11 possible causes of chest pain and coughing.
When to get immediate medical attention
If you experience sudden, severe, and sharp chest pain, it’s important to get immediate medical attention. This may be a sign of a heart attack.
Other symptoms of a heart attack may include:
Bronchitis, also referred to as a chest cold, occurs when the tubes that carry air from your trachea into your lungs become inflamed and filled with mucus.
Irritation of your bronchial tubes may cause repeated bouts of coughing. Your cough may initially be dry, then become productive. A “productive” cough means it produces mucus. This is the most common bronchitis symptom.
Acute bronchitis is temporary. Symptoms may last between 10 days and 3 weeks.
Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs in your lungs. The infection could be bacterial, viral, or fungal.
Pneumonia leads to increased pus and fluid in the lungs, which may trigger coughing. Persistent coughing, in turn, might cause chest pain.
Other symptoms of pneumonia include:
It’s important to contact a doctor if you think you may have pneumonia. If left untreated, it could lead to sepsis and respiratory failure.
The pleura is the tissue that lines the outside of your lungs and inside of your chest cavity.
- inflammation of the pleura (pleurisy)
- fluid buildup in the pleural space (pleural effusion)
- collapsed lung (pneumothorax)
These disorders may be caused by:
- inflammation of the pleura
- fluid, air, or gas buildup
- medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure and cirrhosis
Inflammation or fluid buildup may cause difficulty breathing and chest pain that worsens when you breathe, sneeze, or cough.
Pericarditis occurs when the sac-like tissue covering your heart, called the pericardium, becomes inflamed. It’s usually caused by a virus, but may also be caused by a bacterial infection or another disease.
A common symptom is a sudden sharp pain in the middle of the chest. This may be mistaken for a heart attack. If you experience this, get immediate medical attention.
Other symptoms could also include:
- difficulty breathing
Acute pericarditis may last between
The flu is a contagious respiratory condition that may trigger a dry, persistent cough. This may progressively become more painful and uncomfortable, leading to chest discomfort.
Other symptoms may include:
A flu-related cough may last up to 2 weeks. Chest discomfort tends to improve once the cough lessens.
Early symptoms may include shortness of breath and a mild, recurrent cough.
As the inflammation in the lungs increases, your symptoms may worsen. This may result in a chronic cough, increased mucus production, and chest tightness.
It’s important to speak with a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of COPD.
Asthma is an inflammatory disease typically caused by inflammation or excess mucus in the lining of your airway. This narrows your airways, making it difficult to breathe.
Some people may experience a chronic cough, leading to chest pain.
That said, chest pain may also happen before or during an asthma attack. The tightness or discomfort might feel like a dull ache or a sharp, stabbing pain.
The most common symptom is heartburn, which may cause a burning sensation in your stomach, chest, and throat.
Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that travels to the lungs. It could cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough. A blood clot in your lungs might feel like a heart attack, and you may cough up sputum with bloody streaks.
Other symptoms may include:
- breathing quickly
- pain when breathing deeply
- raised heart rate
Untreated pulmonary embolism could lead to lung tissue damage or be fatal. Every year, it may cause up to
If you have a history of smoking and develop a persistent cough with chest pain, see a doctor.
Early lung cancer may not cause symptoms. But, as the cancer grows, you may develop chest tightness or pain. Shortness of breath could also lead to a chronic cough that produces blood.
It’s also possible to have noncancerous lung nodules, or atypical growths in the lung. These may sometimes come into contact with your airway and cause you to cough.
Interstitial lung disease refers to several diseases that cause scarring, known as fibrosis, in the lungs. The scarring stiffens your lungs, which makes it hard to breathe. It may also cause a dry cough and chest pain.
The risk of developing interstitial lung disease may be increased by:
One single test cannot diagnose the underlying cause of a cough and chest pain.
A doctor will typically conduct a physical and medical history examination. Depending on your symptoms, the doctor may also have you undergo a few tests to look for signs of infection, inflammation, or tumors.
These tests may include:
Certain home remedies may help relieve chest discomfort by easing the cough, such as:
- drinking warm fluids, like tea or water
- using a humidifier
- avoiding smoke exposure
- sucking on throat lozenges
Over-the-counter (OTC) medication is also available to help relieve your cough.
That said, treatment for chest pain and coughing will depend on the underlying condition.
There’s no cure for a viral infection like the flu or viral acute bronchitis. In this case, the virus has to run its course, although OTC cold and flu medications may help relieve symptoms.
If you have a bacterial infection, like some types of pneumonia or bronchitis, you’ll need to take antibiotics. It’s important to take the full course of a prescribed antibiotic to ensure full treatment of the infection.
Pleural disorders and pericarditis
Medications may help treat infections, while corticosteroids might reduce inflammation.
For chronic conditions like COPD or asthma, a doctor may recommend a therapy based on the severity of your symptoms. For example, a bronchodilator and other COPD medications might help reduce breathlessness. Or you may need to use a short-acting or long-acting inhaler for asthma.
Treatment may involve blood thinners and a procedure to remove a large blood clot.
Interstitial lung disease
Treatment depends on the type of disease but may include:
A nagging cough might not be concerning, but chest pain may be serious.
Contact a doctor if you have an unexplained cough that doesn’t improve for more than 3 weeks, or if it’s accompanied by chest pain or other symptoms like:
- a fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
- bloody mucus with your cough
- leg pain or swelling
- shortness of breath
- feelings of weakness, dizziness, or fatigue
When should I worry about chest pain and coughing?
Coughing and chest pain may be caused by the common cold, throat irritation, or some allergies. But they may also be a sign of something more serious.
Get medical assistance if you’re experiencing:
- chest pain that is sharp, sudden, or severe
- chest pain that radiates to your arm, neck, or jaw
- bloody mucus with your cough
- weakness, dizziness, or an inability to catch your breath
- nausea, sweating, or vomiting
Does coronavirus cough hurt your chest?
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. The virus may cause inflammation in your lungs and injury to your heart. This may cause a cough, shortness of breath, and a burning sensation in your chest and lungs.
If you’re experiencing a persistent cough and chest pain that won’t go away, get medical help.
A variety of conditions may trigger a cough with chest pain, so it’s often difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause.
If your symptoms are persistent or worsen, or if they are accompanied by other symptoms, speak with a doctor. They may be able to diagnose the underlying cause and help build a proper treatment plan for you.