Chest congestion symptoms

Updated July 19, 2017

Symptoms of chest congestion may occur at any age. These symptoms, though often mild and insignificant, can be fatal. Closely monitor any illness of the very young, the elderly and those with chronic health problems or a compromised immune system. Use accurate information to separate minor symptoms of the lungs or chest cavity from life-threatening ones. For instance, the cough of a common cold usually will resolve itself in a week or two. During a sudden or severe asthma attack, immediate action may save a life (See Reference 1).


Symptoms of chest congestion include coughing, shortness of breath, feeling of tightness in the chest or other chest discomfort, hemoptysis (coughing up blood) and wheezing or other abnormal breath (breathing) sounds. Any one of these symptoms may occur alone or several may occur at once. Coughing may be productive (i.e., phlegm or sputum may appear), or the cough may be nonproductive (dry). Accurate reporting of the chest-congestion symptoms to the physician is essential.


Causes of chest-congestion symptoms range from the common cold to ailments that are more serious. Cold or flu, asthma, allergy, bronchitis, croup, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, whooping cough (pertussis), pneumonia, tuberculosis, congestive heart failure, gastro-oseophageal reflux disease, heart-valve malfunctions, pulmonary oedema and, according to the Cancer Institute at New York University, lung cancer (See Reference 2) are some of the conditions that may cause symptoms of chest congestion.


Immediately go to a hospital emergency room or call 911 for any symptom that threatens the airway. Throat or chest tightness with swelling of the lips or tongue may be a serious allergic reaction. Severe shortness of breath or constant coughing with inability to speak, are examples of chest-congestion symptoms that require immediate attention. Blue lips, tongue or nails suggest low oxygen levels; seek urgent care. Seek a medical evaluation for cold symptoms that are severe or last more than a week; flu symptoms that are severe or last more than four days; hemoptysis; shaking chills, skin rash or neck stiffness with chest-congestion symptoms. For any elevated temperature exceeding 37.8 degrees C that lasts more than three days, call your physician. According to the MedLine Plus of the National Institutes of Health (See Reference 3), contact your doctor right away for a fever of 105 degrees or above. Consult your paediatrician for guidelines regarding fevers in infants and young children.


Treatment depends on the chest-congestion symptom and its cause. Physicians use different diagnostic tools for this determination. A thorough patient history, physical exam, laboratory examination of blood or other body fluids, chest X-ray, biopsy and lung-function tests are just some of these tools. Management of chest-congestion symptoms may include increased liquids, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, expectorants, cough suppressants, supplemental oxygen or others. Use all medications as directed, over-the-counter and prescription. Do not take aspirin for flu symptoms. Stop smoking and stay away from second-hand smoke. Successful use of medications or treatments requires following instructions carefully. Ask questions, listen attentively and request demonstrations of use if necessary.


Learn the potentially serious chest-congestion symptoms for chronic illnesses of family members. To prevent or render less harmful the causes of chest-congestion symptoms, get adequate rest, eat a proper diet, exercise, wash hands frequently and keep them away from the face. Good preventive medicine also requires lowering stress levels, avoiding infected or ill persons and having regular physicals. Use prescribed maintenance medications correctly. Stop smoking or do not start.

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About the Author

Fueled by a passion for accurate information, Maryl Jones began writing health related training materials in 1995. Jones graduated with honors from the nursing program at S. W. Florida’s Charlotte Vo-Tech Center in 2000. Her articles have appeared online and in print. Workshops and classes, especially in diabetic education and nutrition, keep her up to date.