Chest pain when sneezing can happen for a number of reasons. It’s usually linked to illness, damage, or an injury in the chest wall.
The pain may happen or worsen when you sneeze. This is because sneezing causes the muscles and bones in your chest to move.
Muscle strain is a common cause of chest pain when sneezing. Other causes include chronic conditions like heartburn and more serious problems like a tumor.
Sneezing may cause pain in a single spot or on a large area of your chest. It may happen anywhere from the neck to the upper part of the stomach. Your chest pain may feel:
- sharp or stabbing
- tender or aching
- like a squeezing, tightness, or pressure
Pleurisy happens when the pleura, or lining around the lungs, is inflamed or swollen. Many conditions can cause pleurisy.
In serious cases, fluid builds up between the layers of the lining. This may trigger an infection.
You may need treatment depending on the cause of the pleurisy. Serious causes of pleurisy include:
- bacterial pneumonia
- fungal infections
- blood clots
- chest wounds or injuries
- sickle cell anemia
- cancer or tumors
- chronic conditions like lupus
Pleurisy causes sharp chest pain. The pain may worsen when you breathe, sneeze, or cough. Other symptoms might include:
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness or pressure
- back or shoulder pain
Muscle strain in the ribs is also called intercostal muscle strain. The intercostal muscles are between your ribs and attach them together.
Muscle strain or pulled muscles cause up to 49 percent of chest pain. It’s usually not serious and heals on its own.
You might strain your rib muscles in a fall or from an injury. You can sometimes damage these muscles from poor posture or from exercising, lifting something heavy, or twisting your upper body.
Too much coughing or sneezing can also strain your rib muscles. It can begin slowly over time or happen suddenly.
A muscle strain can cause chest pain. Your ribs may feel bruised or tender. The pain may worsen when you sneeze or breathe deeply. This is because these muscles help to move the rib cage up and down when you breathe.
Allergies can trigger asthma in some people. Allergic rhinitis or hay fever causes nose and sinus symptoms. Asthma mainly affects your lungs and causes chest symptoms.
Allergic asthma causes symptoms of both hay fever and asthma, including:
- runny nose
- sinus congestion
- itchy eyes
- chest pain or tightness
- shortness of breath
- fast breathing
Your doctor may prescribe medications for both allergies and asthma to help control symptoms. Avoiding allergens like pollen, animal dander, and dust can also help prevent allergic asthma symptoms.
Heartburn is also called acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens when acid from your stomach moves or splashes up to your throat. Heartburn can cause chest pain that might feel like a heart problem.
In some people, the esophagus, which is the food tube from your mouth to your stomach, is very sensitive. A muscle spasm or a sneeze can trigger stomach acid to leak into the esophagus. This causes chest pain or a burning sensation.
This condition is common. Treatment and lifestyle changes like diet can help control symptoms. You may be at higher risk of heartburn if you:
- are overweight
- are a smoker
- are pregnant
- eat spicy, fried or fatty foods
- eat a large meal shortly before sleeping
Sneezing and chest pain may be a sign of a lung or chest infection. A lung infection is also called a lower respiratory tract infection. It affects the breathing tubes in and out of your lungs. More serious infections can go deeper into your lungs.
A common cold or flu can sometimes cause a lung infection. Bronchitis is an infection or inflammation of the lining of the breathing tubes. Pneumonia and tuberculosis are more serious lung infections.
Lung infections need urgent medical treatment.
You might have a lung infection if you have:
- a dry or wet cough
- chest pain or ache
- yellow or green mucus or phlegm
- muscle ache
You may have chest pain because of arthritis in your ribs.
Costochondritis is a type of arthritis in the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone. It’s also called chest wall pain and costosternal syndrome. This condition isn’t serious. You may need treatment to help control symptoms and prevent it from getting worse.
Costochondritis causes inflammation and swelling in the chest. Sometimes this chest pain might feel like a heart attack or other heart condition. Sneezing can make the chest pain worse. This is because your rib cage moves up and out when you sneeze and breathe deeply.
Other symptoms are:
- pain that usually happens on the left side of your chest
- sharp pain, an ache, or feeling of pressure
- pain in more than one rib
- pain that worsens with deep breathing, coughing, and sneezing
Other kinds of arthritis can also affect rib joints, such as:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ankylosing spondylitis
An injury, damage, or illness to the rib or rib joints can cause chest pain that worsens when you sneeze.
Bone bruising, fractures, and breaks can trigger sharp pain, aches, and tenderness in the chest.
You may feel more pain when sneezing. This is because the sudden rush of air into and out of your chest moves the bones of your rib cage.
Fractured and broken ribs aren’t usually serious. Your doctor may give you an X-ray to make sure a broken rib isn’t causing other damage in the chest.
A rib joint infection can also cause chest pain when sneezing. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can infect the rib joints. These include:
Treating an infection with antibiotics, antiviral medications, and other drugs is important. A serious infection may be damaging or even life-threatening. Some infections can also spread to other people very quickly.
A hernia happens when an organ is pushed or pulled into a place it shouldn’t normally be.
For example, you may have a hiatal hernia if the top part of the stomach bulges into the chest. This can sometimes lead to chest pain and other symptoms. You may have:
- acid reflux
- chest pain
- stomach pain
- shortness of breath
- black bowel movements
A hard sneeze and other kinds of straining might worsen a hernia.
The dome-shaped diaphragm muscle above the stomach helps to keep it in place. This muscle also helps you breathe.
Sneezing makes this muscle move suddenly. If the diaphragm is injured or naturally weak, a hernia may cause chest pain when sneezing.
Larger hernias may need treatment like surgery. You may not need treatment for smaller hernia. Eating a healthy diet and other lifestyle changes may be enough to get rid of symptoms.
Chest pain is a main warning sign of a heart attack and other heart problems. Sneezing won’t cause chest pain in a heart attack. However, it may trigger or worsen chest pain if you have other heart conditions like angina.
Angina is a kind of chest pain that happens when there isn’t enough oxygen getting to the heart. This pain is temporary. Angina usually happens when you’re physically active or stressed.
In some cases, hard or continuous sneezing might trigger angina chest pain. Rest and medication usually relieve chest pain. Angina is a serious condition that needs medical treatment.
Other symptoms of angina are:
- pain that worsens with activity and gets better with rest
- pressure or tightness in the chest, usually behind the sternum
- numbness in the shoulder or arms, usually the left side
A tumor in the chest wall or in or around the lungs or heart can cause chest pain.
A tumor anywhere in the chest can cause sharp or dull pain on one side. The chest pain can worsen by sneezing and yawning. Other symptoms include:
- difficulty breathing
- fluid in the lungs
Teratomas may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Both types may be removed with surgery. In some cases, other treatment like radiation and chemotherapy is also needed.
Treatment for chest pain when sneezing depends on the cause. Some conditions may not need treatment at all. Viral infections like the flu usually clear up on their own. Muscle strains heal without treatment.
You may need to take daily medications to help control chronic conditions like asthma, heartburn, and arthritis. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antivirals, or antifungal drugs for serious infections.
Most bruised, fractured, or broken ribs heal on their own. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to help you recover. Sternum and collarbone injuries may need more care and take longer to heal.
Tell your doctor if you have chest pain every time you sneeze. If you don’t have a chronic condition or an injury, your doctor can find out what’s causing your chest pain.
See your doctor if you have any of these other symptoms:
- cough that doesn’t go away
- fever or chills
- chronic chest pain
- no appetite
- bloody mucous
- leg swelling
Call 911 or your local emergency medical services if you have:
- severe chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- coughing blood
- swollen face
Chest pain when sneezing is most commonly caused by chest wall problems like muscle strain. This happens because sneezing, coughing, and deep breathing move your rib cage and chest muscles up and down.
In rare cases, chest pain when sneezing may be warning signs of a more serious problem.
See your doctor if you have other symptoms in addition to chest pain when sneezing. If your chest pain is serious or lasts for a long time, get urgent medical attention right away.