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What are Common Causes of Chest Congestion and Cough?

By Amanda Piontek
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Chest congestion and cough are two common health conditions that have many different causes. These uncomfortable sensations often accompany viral and bacterial illnesses like a cold or pneumonia, but can also be the result of lifestyle choices such as cigarette smoking. Chronic or reoccurring conditions like asthma, allergies, and acid reflux can also cause a cough or congestion. An individual experiencing troublesome symptoms should evaluate his or her situation and, if necessary, visit a health care provider to address the problem and determine the best treatment plan.

There are many different short-term illnesses that can cause chest congestion and cough. The common cold often includes respiratory signs like cough, runny nose, and congestion. Conditions like whooping cough and croup produce distinctive symptoms. The cough of croup is often described as the sound of a barking seal, while whooping cough results in violent coughing episodes with a characteristic whooping noise as the patient gasps for air.

Cigarette smoking is a habit that is destructive to the lung tissue. Smoke and tar enters and coats the lungs, resulting in permanent damage to the organs and obstructive pulmonary diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. A smoker often experiences discomforts like chest congestion, as well as a cough, sore throat, restricted breathing, and reduced oxygen flow to the body. The damage caused by cigarette smoking is not reversible, but a person who quits smoking and consults with a health care professional can often take steps to control the symptoms and improve his or her quality of life.

Asthma and allergies are also causes feelings of chest congestion and cough. When asthma is accompanied by a dry, non-productive cough, it is called cough-variant asthma. This illness may or may not display other common asthma symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma can also result in tightness in the chest similar to the feeling of congestion. Likewise, allergies to pollen, dust, and animals can cause a cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and congestion.

A lesser known cause these symptoms is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as acid reflux. The condition originates in the esophagus with a weak valve that allows acid to flow up out of the stomach. Stomach acid that leaks into the esophagus can stimulate nerves that cause coughing. It can also inflame the throat and infect the lungs. GERD might also result in the same chest tightness and wheezing normally experienced with chest congestion.

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Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Jan 11, 2012

@julies - I always keep a jar of honey on hand, and this is the first thing I reach for if I have a cough or sore throat.

Many people have heard of using honey for a cough, but I like to mix it in with some grape juice. There is something in the grapes that act as an expectorant and help tone the lungs.

The combination of grape juice and honey almost always helps my cough. I will try to take this several times throughout the day for the best results.

By julies — On Jan 10, 2012

Are there any good home remedies for chest congestion and cough? I don't like to take the over the counter medications, but would like to find a natural way to treat the symptoms.

It seems like I get a bad cold every winter and then again in the spring. For some reason, the spring cold seems to be even worse than the one in the winter.

Sometimes it hangs on for weeks before it completely goes away. If I could find something to stop the coughing, I would be able to sleep a lot better at night.

By John57 — On Jan 10, 2012

When my sister was a a baby she ended up getting a bad case of the croup. I can still remember the sound of her horrible cough. When a baby gets congestion like this, it can be really serious for their tiny lungs.

She got so bad my parents had to call the town doctor in the middle of the night. He had to give her an emergency tracheotomy. She still has a scar on the outside of her throat from this, but it saved her life.

Many times you can use something like Robitussin for cough and chest congestion. There are other times when you need so get some professional help because the situation is more serious than a common cold.

By bagley79 — On Jan 09, 2012

My husband has had pneumonia more than once. His doctor told him that if you have this one time, it is much easier to get again.

The first time he had pneumonia he thought it was just a bad cold. He had the typical symptoms of coughing, sneezing and chest congestion. It was when he started wheezing and could hardly get his breath that he finally went to the doctor.

The second time he began experiencing these symptoms, he didn't wait so long to be checked out. He was able to get started on some medication sooner, and the symptoms weren't as bad and didn't last as long.

There are a lot of remedies for chest congestion and cough, but if it is something like pneumonia, you really need to be on some antibiotics.

By wavy58 — On Jan 08, 2012

A bronchitis cough is the worst kind I have ever experienced. The congestion took over my breathing and made me cough involuntarily, even when I refused to do it myself.

It started with just a cold. The cold lasted for about three days before going down into my chest in the form of congestion. I could hear the mucus rattling as I breathed, and I also could detect a slight wheezing sound.

No matter how much I coughed, I could not get all the mucus out of my chest. I had to go to a doctor for some antibiotics, because I literally felt like I might be dying. It seemed I was drowning in my own phlegm.

By Oceana — On Jan 08, 2012

@backdraft – I can't imagine having a cough for years! You must have been miserable while trying to overcome it.

The constant throat-clearing must have gotten old, too. My boss smoked for many years, and even after he had quit for two years, I kept hearing him clear his throat in his office very few minutes or every time he spoke.

I feel bad for smokers who suffer lingering effects, even after they quit the habit. It must be so hard to stay motivated when the ill effects you are trying to escape stay with you for so long. Congratulations to you for hanging in there and making it.

By seag47 — On Jan 07, 2012

I remember getting the croup as a child. It was so awful, because the coughing got so intense that it became involuntary.

I can still remember the ache in my little chest and throat every time I coughed. It seemed there would be no end to my suffering.

My mother rubbed some eucalyptus salve on my chest and put a vaporizer in my room to help me breathe. I do recall getting some relief from this.

I'm sure my mother probably took me to a doctor, and I vaguely remember taking some ill-tasting cough syrup. However, what stuck with me most was the pain and rawness I felt from all the coughing that the congestion caused.

By shell4life — On Jan 06, 2012

@jonrss – There may not be any science behind this, but I have found something that has kept me from getting sick at all during the winter and spring months. My family says it is just a coincidence, but it has worked for me for years.

I have spent many winter and spring seasons in the past coughing up phlegm from my chest, and the misery only goes away when I visit a doctor. Now, I can avoid all of the nasty congestion and exhausting coughing.

I have found that when I get a flu shot sometime in September or October, I don't experience even as much as a head cold throughout the entire flu season. I know the shots are only designed to prevent me from getting the flu, but this is a wonderful side effect.

By backdraft — On Jan 06, 2012

I was a smoker for 40 years and for most of that time I had a terrible smokers cough. I would have to clear my throat almost every time I spoke and I would frequently wake up with a hacking cough in the middle of the night.

It sucked but I was hooked and didn't think I could ever quit smoking so I just chalked it up to a necessary consequence. But about 10 years ago I decided to get serious about quitting smoking and I haven't had a smoke in almost 8 years.

It took about 4 years for the cough to go away completely, but now I breathe and speak without any hacking. This is just one of the many benefits I've gotten from quitting. I should have done thins 50 years ago.

By jonrss — On Jan 05, 2012

I seem to get a bad chest cold every year in March. I think it is a consequence of the cold wet winters we get around here.

I always end up going to the doctor and he gives me the same medication and the problem goes away within a week. But is is still really annoying and it happens so predictably. I don't want to move to a dryer warmer place but I wish there was some kind of preventative measure I could take to ensure that I end up cold free this winter.

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