Chest Pain When Coughing: What Are the Causes?

Chest pain when coughing is a very common symptom in people who suffer from certain respiratory system conditions. In this article, discover the possible causes.
Chest Pain When Coughing: What Are the Causes?
María Vijande

Reviewed and approved by the pharmacist María Vijande.

Written by María Vijande

Last update: 07 August, 2022

The sensation of chest pain when coughing is something that can alarm us. This is usually because we tend to relate the discomfort with possible problems in the lungs or heart, which in turn makes us think there’s some major health problem to tend to.

Has this ever happened to you? If so, maybe you’re still wondering what could have been the cause and if you should pay more attention to it from now on. Curious? Then be sure to read everything we’re going to tell you below.

The causes of chest pain when coughing

Chest pain when coughing is a very common discomfort when suffering from certain respiratory system disorders, when smoking and also after inhaling smoke (from a fire, for example) or other toxic and irritating gaseous substances. But are these the only possible causes?

Below, we’ll explain the main causes behind this discomfort so that you can take them into account and know when it may be time to go for a medical check-up.

1. The flu

A woman with the flue sitting on a couch with a scarf wrapped around her neck.

Influenza is one of the most common viral infections worldwide. It usually manifests abruptly, with severe symptoms from almost the first moment. The main symptoms of the flu are:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle and chest pain

Flu symptoms tend to be more serious and long-lasting than those of a cold. It’s normal to have chest pain in case of the flu, which can worsen if the patient also has a cough.

You may also enjoy the following article: Carrot Syrup for the Flu: Benefits and Preparation

2. Common cold

A cold is a viral infectious respiratory condition. It’s more common in children than in adults and its symptoms are stronger in the first three days. However, in addition to general malaise, sore throat, and increased mucus, cough is one of the most common symptoms. If it occurs repeatedly, it may even cause chest pain.

Cold symptoms manifest progressively after the third day of exposure and last for about a week. The main symptoms of a cold are:

The fact that it affects the respiratory system is what makes it one of the leading causes of chest pain when coughing.

3. Acute bronchitis

A man with a scarf around his neck, couphing and holding his chest.

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi. After bronchi infection or inflammation, the ability to breathe decreases.The symptoms that bronchitis causes are:
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Mucus
  • Chest and back pain

The main cause of acute bronchitis is usually a viral infection. It’s often the result of a badly treated cold. However, it may also be caused by a bacterial infection.

4. Asthma and chest pain when coughing

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the narrowing of the airways as a result of inflammation. Asthma affects the airways, inflaming and narrowing them.

If not diagnosed and treated properly, it’s very common to suffer shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest pain when coughing. Here are some of the symptoms of asthma:

  • Cough with mucus
  • Wheezing when breathing
  • Chest pain when coughing
  • Difficulty breathing

5. Pneumothorax

A doctor looking at a lung x-ray with a patient in a hospital bed in the background.

Pneumothorax, also known as lung collapse, occurs when the lung is perforated and air escapes from it. The direct consequence of pneumothorax is that the space around the lungs fills up with air. This doesn’t allow it to expand, causing obvious symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath.

The pressure that the air out of the lungs causes leads to chest pain that worsens when coughing.

6. Musculoskeletal injuries and chest pain when coughing

When someone suffers an injury to the chest muscles or bones or those near it, the pain will intensify when coughing. Fractures or cracks in the ribs, rib cage, sternum, or spine cause severe chest pain when coughing, pain that can also manifest when breathing, standing, or doing certain movements.

7. Costochondritis

All the ribs except the last two are connected to the sternum by cartilage. When this cartilage becomes inflamed, it causes an injury known as costochondritis or costosternal syndrome.

The main consequence is a sharp chest pain that worsens when coughing or doing certain movements. Costochondritis is one of the main causes of this pain. Its main causes are:

  • Thoracic injuries
  • Lifting weights
  • Infections in the airways
  • Overexertion when coughing
  • Certain types of arthritis

As you have seen, chest pain when coughing can have its origin in different infectious processes and pathologies. Therefore, if it’s not a simple cold, it’s best to see a specialist.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Jones TL, Neville DM, Chauhan AJ. Diagnosis and treatment of severe asthma: a phenotype-based approach. Clin Med (Lond). 2018 Apr 1;18(Suppl 2):s36-s40.
  • Kinkade S, Long NA. Acute Bronchitis. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Oct 1;94(7):560-565.
  • Passioti M, Maggina P, Megremis S, Papadopoulos NG. The common cold: potential for future prevention or cure. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2014 Feb;14(2):413.
  • Mott T, Jones G, Roman K. Costochondritis: Rapid Evidence Review. Am Fam Physician. 2021 Jul 1;104(1):73-78.
  • Huan NC, Sidhu C, Thomas R. Pneumothorax: Classification and Etiology. Clin Chest Med. 2021 Dec;42(4):711-727.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.