Chest Burns When I Cough

It’s also possible to have noncancerous lung nodules, or abnormal growths in the lung. These may sometimes come into contact with your airway and cause you to cough.

11 Causes of Chest Pain and Cough

A variety of conditions, from pneumonia to lung cancer, can cause chest pain and cough. Some conditions may improve on their own, while others will need medical treatment.

If you have a cough, you might chalk it up to the common cold or throat irritation. But what if you develop chest pain with a cough? Should you be worried?

Chest pain and coughing can occur with conditions that affect the lungs, like acute bronchitis and pneumonia.

To help you narrow down the exact cause, check out the following list of 11 possible causes of chest pain and coughing.

Bronchitis is inflammation of the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs. It’s sometimes referred to as a chest cold.

Irritation of your bronchial tubes can cause repeated bouts of coughing, which can lead to chest soreness. Acute bronchitis is temporary, with symptoms generally lasting less than three weeks.

Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs in your lungs. It can be bacterial, viral, or fungal. Pneumonia leads to increased pus and fluid in the lungs, which can trigger coughing. Persistent coughing, in turn, causes chest pain.

Other symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • high fever
  • chills
  • muscle pain
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • low blood oxygen levels

The pleura is the tissue lining your lungs and chest cavity. There are three main types of pleural disorders:

  • pleurisy, which involves inflammation of the pleura
  • pleural effusion, which occurs when fluid builds up in the area between the two layers of pleura, known as the pleural space. One kind of pleural effusion, called empyema, occurs when pus is present in the pleural space
  • pneumothorax, which happens when air or gas is present in the pleural space

A cough that causes chest pain might be due to any of these conditions. Inflammation can cause sharp chest pain that worsens when you breathe, sneeze, or cough.

Inflammation and fluid buildup can also make it difficult to breathe, triggering a cough in some people.

Pericarditis occurs when the sac-like tissue covering your heart, called the pericardium, becomes inflamed. It’s usually caused by a virus, but can also be caused by a bacterial infection or another disease.

Chest pain is a main symptom, and pericarditis may be mistaken for a heart attack or pleurisy. Other symptoms can include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • difficulty breathing

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause the following symptoms:

The infection can also trigger a persistent cough, which can lead to chest soreness or chest pain. Chest discomfort tends to improve once the cough lessens.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term to describe progressive, chronic lung diseases. It includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma. The main symptom of COPD is breathlessness.

Smoking and long-term exposure to poor air can cause this disease.

Inflammation in the lungs can increase mucus production, causing a chronic cough and chest tightness.

With asthma, inflammation causes narrowing of the airways. This narrowing can make it difficult to breathe, causing a chronic cough in some people.

Asthma can also cause excess mucus, which may contribute to a cough. Chest pain can follow a coughing bout, and difficulty breathing can feel like chest tightness.

Acid reflux is a digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid flows up into the esophagus. It can cause regurgitation and nausea, as well as coughing.

Heartburn is a classic symptom of acid reflux. It can feel like burning in the chest.

Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that travels to the lungs. It can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough. A blood clot in your lungs can feel like a heart attack, and you may cough up bloody streaks of sputum.

Other symptoms include:

  • breathing quickly
  • pain when breathing deeply
  • raised heart rate
  • lightheadedness
  • sweating

If you have a history of smoking and develop a persistent cough with chest pain, see a doctor.

Early lung cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, you may develop chest tightness or pain. Shortness of breath can lead to a chronic cough that produces blood.

It’s also possible to have noncancerous lung nodules, or abnormal growths in the lung. These may sometimes come into contact with your airway and cause you to cough.

Interstitial lung disease refers to several diseases that cause scarring, known as fibrosis, in the lungs. The scarring makes your lungs stiff, making it hard to breathe and causing a dry cough and chest pain.

The risk of developing interstitial lung disease may be increased by:

  • medical treatments like chemotherapy
  • genetics
  • exposure to materials like asbestos
  • smoking
  • diseases like rheumatoid arthritis

Damage to the lungs from this condition is usually irreversible.

There isn’t a single test to diagnose the underlying cause of a cough and chest pain.

At your appointment, your doctor may conduct a physical examination and ask about accompanying symptoms. Be honest about how you feel. From here, your doctor may order imaging tests of your chest to look for signs of infection, inflammation, or tumors.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may also have you undergo a few tests, including:

  • Imaging tests: These may include a chest X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.
  • Pulmonary function tests: These tests will measure your lung function and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your blood.
  • Bronchoscopy: This test uses a scope to check your airways.
  • Ultrasound: This can look for fluid or air around your lungs.
  • Sputum test: This is to check your mucus for signs of an infection or lung cancer cells.
  • Complete blood count: This blood test checks for disorders including infections and autoimmune diseases.
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Treatment for chest pain and coughing depend on the underlying condition.

  • Viral infection: There’s no cure for a viral infection like the flu or viral acute bronchitis. In this case, the virus has to run its course, although over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medications can help you feel better. These medications can relieve a fever, body aches, and other flu symptoms.
  • Bacterial infection: If you have a bacterial infection, like some types of pneumonia or bronchitis, you’ll need to take antibiotics. Even if you start to feel better after a few days, take the full course of a prescribed antibiotic to ensure full treatment of the infection.
  • Pleural disorders and pericarditis: Medications can treat infections while corticosteroids reduce inflammation. Pain relievers may also be used.
  • Chronic conditions: For chronic conditions like COPD or asthma, your doctor can recommend a therapy based on the severity of your symptoms. For example, a bronchodilator and other COPD medications can help reduce breathlessness. Or you may need to use a short-acting or long-acting inhaler for asthma.
  • Pulmonary embolism: Treatment for a pulmonary embolism will involve blood thinners and perhaps a procedure to remove a large blood clot.
  • Lung cancer: Lung cancer treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy drugs, or radiation to shrink a tumor.
  • Interstitial lung disease: Treatment depends on the type of disease, but may include oxygen therapy. Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation can also help.

Along with conventional therapy and rest, home remedies can help relieve symptoms. If a nagging cough causes chest pain, treating the cough may ease chest discomfort.

  • Drink warm fluids: Warm water or tea can soothe your throat and bronchial tubes, easing a persistent cough. Honey can also act as a cough suppressant, so it may help to add 1 or 2 teaspoons to your drink.
  • Use a humidifier: A humidifier reduces dryness in the air. The extra moisture can loosen or thin mucus in your throat.
  • Avoid smoke exposure: Exposure to smoke and other air pollutants can worsen a cough and increase chest pain. Try to avoid secondhand smoke, and if you currently smoke, talk to your doctor about a smoking cessation program to help you quit.
  • Suck on throat lozenges to soothe your throat: Throat irritation from a viral infection or chest infection can also cause a persistent cough, leading to chest pain.
  • Take OTC medication: A cough suppressant can help ease a cough. To avoid drug interactions, talk to your doctor first if you’re taking a prescription medication.

A cough and chest pain can be a minor annoyance, or they can progress into serious complications.

The flu and common cold can sometimes advance to pneumonia. If left untreated, pneumonia can cause sepsis and respiratory failure.

Severe COPD and an asthma attack can also be life-threatening if they cause respiratory failure. Similarly, untreated pulmonary embolism can lead to lung tissue damage. Pulmonary embolism causes around 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

Untreated pleural disorders can result in serious health issues, including the collapse of a lung or sepsis.

Early detection and treatment is also crucial with lung cancer to prevent cancerous cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

A nagging cough might not be of concern. You may wonder, though, when chest pain is serious and when you should worry.

See a doctor if you have an unexplained cough that doesn’t improve for more than three weeks, or if it’s accompanied by chest pain or other symptoms like:

  • fever higher than 100.4°F (38°C)
  • bloody mucus with your cough
  • leg pain or swelling
  • shortness of breath
  • hoarseness
  • feeling weak
  • dizziness
  • fatigue

The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you don’t already have a doctor.

A variety of conditions can trigger a cough with chest pain, so it can be difficult to pinpoint the underlying cause. Talk to your doctor, and be honest about your symptoms. The more information you provide, the easier it’ll be for your doctor to make a diagnosis.

Last medically reviewed on August 31, 2022

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Chest cold (acute bronchitis). (2021).
    cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/bronchitis.html
  • Dababneh E., et al. (2022). Pericarditis.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431080/
  • Garvia V., et al. (2021). Empyema.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459237/
  • Interstitial lung disease (ILD). (n.d.).
    lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/interstitial-lung-disease
  • Learn about COPD. (2022).
    lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/learn-about-copd
  • Lung cancer. (n.d.).
    cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html
  • Vyas V., et al. (2022). Acute pulmonary embolism.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560551/
  • What are pleural disorders? (2022).
    nhlbi.nih.gov/health/pleural-disorders
  • What is asthma? (2022).
    nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma
  • What is pneumonia? (2022).
    nhlbi.nih.gov/health/pneumonia
  • What is venous thromboembolism? (2022).
    nhlbi.nih.gov/health/venous-thromboembolism

Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Burning sensation in the lungs

There are many possible causes of a burning sensation in the lungs. Although this symptom is not usually a cause for concern, it can sometimes indicate a severe condition that requires treatment.

A burning pain in the chest area can be concerning, particularly if the cause is unknown. However, many causes are relatively benign.

In this article, we look at some of the common causes of a burning sensation in the lungs and explain when a person needs emergency medical help.

We also look at the current evidence linking burning chest pain to COVID-19, the disease that the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causes.

Doctor checks for burning sensation in lungs

Pain in the chest might be related to any of the organs and systems in that part of the body. These include the ribcage, lungs, heart, and esophagus (food pipe), which is the tube that connects the throat and stomach.

It is not unusual to experience a burning sensation in the lungs, and it is not usually anything serious. However, in some cases, it may be a sign of a heart attack.

A heart attack happens when the heart stops receiving the oxygen-rich blood that it needs to survive. This medical emergency requires immediate attention.

Symptoms of a heart attack in males

For males, the symptoms of a heart attack might include:

  • pain or discomfort in the center of the chest, which may feel like burning, pressure, or squeezing
  • pain that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes over time
  • pain or discomfort in one or both arms or the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • cold sweat
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness
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Symptoms of a heart attack in females

As well as experiencing chest pain or discomfort, a female who is having a heart attack is more likely to experience:

  • shortness of breath
  • nausea or vomiting
  • pain in the jaw
  • pain in the back

People should call 911 right away if they or someone else is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

A diverse range of factors can cause burning pain in the chest.

Heartburn

Heartburn, or acid indigestion, happens when stomach acid rises into the esophagus.

It can cause a painful, burning sensation in the chest, neck, throat, or jaw. If the pain goes away when the person belches, heartburn is the likely cause.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help ease the symptoms of heartburn.

Chest infection

Common colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia are all examples of chest infections. As well as chest pain, common symptoms include:

Doctors may recommend antibiotics to treat a bacterial chest infection.

Asthma attack

Asthma is a long-term condition. People with asthma have inflamed bronchial tubes. These are the passageways that carry air in and out of the lungs.

An asthma attack happens when the muscles around the tubes tighten, making the air passages really narrow.

A person who is having an asthma attack may feel as though someone is sitting on their chest.

The episode might last just a few minutes and get better on its own, or it might go on for hours. Sometimes, people find it so hard to breathe that they need to go to the hospital for treatment.

People with asthma usually have an inhaler that helps relax the muscles around the tubes, allowing air to get in and out of the lungs more easily.

Less common conditions may also cause a burning sensation in the lungs.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in the arteries that supply the lungs with the blood they need to survive.

Deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot in the leg, is a common cause of a pulmonary embolism. The pulmonary embolism happens if a blood clot breaks loose, starts circulating the body, and gets stuck in a lung artery, blocking the blood flow.

It is a very serious condition that can cause permanent damage to the lungs and other organs.

The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism might include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing up blood

Doctors will usually treat the problem with medication to thin the blood or dissolve the clot.

They may also recommend a catheter-assisted thrombus removal. This surgical procedure involves using a flexible tube to reach into the lung and remove the clot.

Lung cancer

In rare cases, a burning sensation in the chest may be a sign of lung cancer.

The symptoms are different for everyone, and some people will have no symptoms at all. Those who do might experience:

  • a pain in the chest that gets worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • a cough that does not go away or keeps getting worse
  • appetite loss
  • tiredness or weakness
  • wheezing
  • chest infections that keep coming back

The type and severity of the cancer will determine the treatment options.

Treatment will usually involve a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery. Sometimes, treatment is not appropriate, and doctors will focus on alleviating the symptoms of the cancer.

Researchers do not yet know whether COVID-19 can cause burning chest pain, but some scientists have noticed a link between this symptom and the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , chest pain is a possible symptom of COVID-19.

Other symptoms may include:

  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • tiredness
  • muscle aches
  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • a stuffy or runny nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

To determine why a person is experiencing a burning pain in their chest, a doctor will first ask them about the symptoms and their personal and family’s medical history.

They may use a stethoscope to listen to the chest and carry out blood tests, X-rays, and other tests.

If the doctor suspects COVID-19, they will ask the person to take a swab test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

OTC pain relief medications can help ease mild chest pain if it is due to heartburn, but in most cases, people should consider speaking to a doctor.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advise that people who experience heartburn can reduce their symptoms by:

  • avoiding alcohol and cigarettes
  • refraining from taking aspirin or other anti-inflammatory medication
  • avoiding drinking citrus juices
  • stopping eating a few hours before bedtime
  • raising the head of the bed by about 6 inches, if heartburn occurs at night
  • taking OTC medications for indigestion

There are many possible causes of a burning sensation in the chest. Most are nothing to worry about, such as heartburn.

However, some are a medical emergency, such as a heart attack.

Anyone who thinks that they or someone else might be having a heart attack should call 911 right away.

Doctors are not yet sure whether chest pain is a symptom of COVID-19, but some believe that it is.

Anyone who suspects that they have COVID-19 should talk to a doctor.

Last medically reviewed on October 14, 2020

  • Asthma
  • Respiratory
  • Acid Reflux / GERD
  • Cardiovascular / Cardiology

How we reviewed this article:

Medical News Today has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations. We avoid using tertiary references. We link primary sources — including studies, scientific references, and statistics — within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Asthma attack. (n.d.).
    https://acaai.org/asthma/symptoms/asthma-attack
  • Chest pain: A heart attack or something else? (2020).
    https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/chest-pain-a-heart-attack-or-something-else
  • Heartburn or heart attack? (2018).
    https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/angina-chest-pain/heartburn-or-heart-attack
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections: Signs and symtoms. (2020).
    https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/atypical/mycoplasma/about/signs-symptoms.html
  • Pulmonary embolism. (2016).
    https://medlineplus.gov/pulmonaryembolism.html
  • Signs and symptoms of lung cancer. (2019).
    https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html
  • Symptoms of coronavirus. (2020).
    https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
  • Warning signs of a heart attack. (2016).
    https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/warning-signs-of-a-heart-attack

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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