Tickling or fluttering in the chest can be a symptom of a number of health conditions, from heart- to lung- to stomach-related ones.

While most causes aren’t serious, there are some circumstances where a tickle in the chest should not be ignored.

What are the causes of a tickle in the chest?

A tickle in the chest can feel like a fluttering or bubbling in the chest. Here are some possible causes.

Common cold

A tickle in the chest is often a symptom of the common cold. This is usually a mild viral illness that leads to symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, headache, and general feeling of discomfort.

Typically, a common cold goes away in less than a week and you can treat it with over-the-counter measures.

Learn more about the common cold.

Hay fever

Also known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever can cause your throat or chest to develop a tickling feeling. Hay fever is caused by exposure to an allergen (something to which you’re allergic).

Hay fever often lasts longer than a common cold. Contrary to its name, a fever is not a symptom of hay fever, but you may experience:

  • runny nose with thin watery discharge
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • sinus pressure

Learn more about hay fever.

Bronchitis

Sometimes a tickle in the chest may be bronchitis. This is an inflammation of the lining of the airways in the lungs. Bronchitis can develop after a cold or other respiratory infection. Some people call bronchitis a “chest cold.”

In addition to a tickle in the chest, symptoms are:

  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing up mucus
  • chest soreness or discomfort

Sometimes bronchitis can be a long-lasting a condition called chronic bronchitis.

Learn more about bronchitis.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the lungs to spasm or loosen and contract very quickly. As a result, it’s difficult to breathe effectively. The spasm in the airways can cause a tickling feeling in the chest.

If asthma is very severe, wheezing and shortness of breath can result. Another asthma symptom is a chronic cough that is usually worse at night.

Asthma can cause severe episodes where you cannot breathe well. To help prevent this, see an asthma specialist.

Learn more about asthma.

Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of panic or fear that can be overwhelming. A person with anxiety may feel a tickle in their chest due to rapid heart rate or fast breathing.

You may also experience an intense episode of anxiety known as an anxiety attack. This can feel as if you are having a heart attack.

Learn more about anxiety.

Acid reflux or GERD

Acid reflux is a condition that causes stomach acid to come up into the throat. This can cause a burning sensation in the throat as well as a tickle in the chest. Often, the symptoms get worse when you lie flat or after you’ve had a big meal.

While everyone may experience acid reflux from time to time, frequent episodes of acid reflux may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition can be serious because it can be uncomfortable and painful. The acid can also damage the lining of the esophagus.

Learn more about GERD.

Irregular heartbeat

The heart usually beats in specific rhythm, but there are exceptions. One is a condition called atrial fibrillation (aFib). This condition causes the top of a person’s heart to beat out of rhythm with the bottom. The effect can be a fluttering or tickling in the chest.

Sometimes a person may feel faint when they have an irregular heart rhythm. If you suspect your heart is beating irregularly, you should see your doctor.

Seek emergency medical attention if you’re having chest pains along with tickling in your chest. These are symptoms of a heart attack.

Learn more about atrial fibrillation.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a severe infection of the lungs that can be the result of bacteria, fungi, or viruses that get into the airways. Some of the symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • chest pain
  • cough, which may or may not produce mucus
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • sweating or chills
  • shortness of breath

Having pneumonia can be especially problematic for those ages 65 and older. If the tickle in your chest could be due to pneumonia, seek immediate medical attention.

Learn more about pneumonia.

What are the treatments for a tickle in the chest?

Most often, a tickle in the chest is due to a cold or other lung-related illness. When this is the case, some of the best treatments can include:

  • Resting. Getting plenty of rest can give the body energy to heal.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids. This helps not only to keep the body hydrated, but also to thin the mucus, which makes it easier to cough up.
  • Avoiding smoke and secondhand smoke. Smoke can be an irritant to the lungs, making a person cough and increasing the tickle in your chest.
  • Taking medications that address the underlying issue. Examples include acid reflux relievers, antihistamines, decongestants, or inhalers.

If a cough persists beyond a week or your symptoms worsen, you should always see your doctor.

If the tickle in your chest is due to acid reflux, you may need to change your diet. This can include avoiding high-fat foods, spicy foods, and those known to produce excess stomach acid, such as:

  • tomatoes
  • chocolate
  • peppermint
  • coffee

Eating smaller meals and refraining from eating two to three hours before bedtime can help your food digest, making it less likely that food will reflux (come back up after eating).

If the tickle in your chest is due to irregular heart rhythms, a doctor will evaluate your heart and its rhythm. Medications are available that may help get the heart back in rhythm. If these are ineffective, a doctor may use a specially delivered electrical shock to try to get the heart back in rhythm.

What is the outlook for a tickle in the chest?

A tickle in the chest can be related to the lungs, heart, or stomach. If your symptoms persist beyond a few days or worsen, you should see your doctor.