Tight Chest from Cold and More Serious Infections

Nearly all individuals suffer from cold infection at some point in their lives. According to estimates, around 1 billion cold infections occur in the USA every year.  The common symptoms of a cold infection are sore throat, nasal congestion, headache, sneezing and cough. The symptoms of cold are usually caused due to viral infection and they get better within one or two weeks on their own. However, occasionally, a simple cold may result in more serious illness. Chest tightness from cold and fever may indicate that infection has travelled into the lungs.

Chest Tightness from Cold: Accompanying Symptoms and Management

Symptoms appear usually 1-3 days after you are being exposed to a virus. Symptoms may vary in different persons and include:

  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Mild headache
  • Body aches
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Malaise

When should you visit your physician?

In Adults: Go to your physician in case you have the following:

  • Fever more than 101.3 degree F
  • Severe and ongoing chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever for more than 5 days
  • Wheezing
  • Severe headache, sinus pain or sore throat

In Children: Go to your physician in case your child has the following:

  • Fever that is increasing or fever that remains for greater than 2 days in a kid falling in any age group
  • High temperature of 100.4 degree F in infants till 12 weeks
  • Symptoms that do not improve or aggravate
  • Severe symptoms, including cough or headache
  • Ear pain
  • Wheezing
  • Decreased hunger
  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Extreme fussiness

Medical Treatment

No cure exists for common cold. You should not use antibiotics as they are ineffective against viruses that cause cold. The aim of treatment is to relieve symptoms and signs.

  • Pain relievers. You can use acetaminophen to relieve sore throat, fever and headache; however, use it for short duration and follow directions on the label to avoid any side effects.

Give your kid OTC pain killers that are designed specifically for children or infants such as Pediatric Advil, Motrin Infant, Infant’s Feverall etc.

  • Decongestant nasal sprays. These may be used by adults for a maximum of 5 days and should not be used by kids smaller than 6 years.
  • Cough syrups. Kids younger than 4 years should not be given OTC cold and cough medicines. While giving these medicines to a kid older than 4 years, follow the instructions on the label.

Home and Lifestyle Remedies

  • Adjust your posture into an upright position and take slow & deep breath. Make this a habit.
  • Drink lots of fluids such as juice, water, warm lemon water or clear broth. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they are dehydrating.
  • Eat chicken soup. Chicken soup is soothing and helps in relieving chest tightness from cold.
  • Take lots of rest. Stay at home from school or work. By doing this you can not only take rest but also avoid spreading the infection to others.
  • Adjust the humidity and temperature of your room. Keep the room temperature warm. Use vaporizer or cool-mist humidifier to humidify your room and relieve coughing and congestion. However, make sure to clean the humidifier regularly to keep it free of molds and bacteria.
  • Soothe your throat by doing gargle with saltwater. Dissolve ½ tsp of salt in 8 oz of warm water and gargle with this water to relieve scratchy and sore throat.

More Severe Health Conditions that Can Cause Chest Tightness

1. Chest Cold or Bronchitis

Bronchitis, also known as chest cold is characterized by inflammation of small airways in the lungs. As a result they produce excessive mucus. Bronchitis is of two main types:

  • Acute Bronchitis: It is the common type of bronchitis and is usually caused due to infection by a virus. Acute bronchitis is worsened by smoking.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: It is characterized by persistent cough for 2-3 months in a year for at least 2 years. It is most commonly caused by smoking.


  • Frequent cough that produces mucus
  • Wheezing sound upon breathing
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Fever of 100-102 degree F
  • Chest tightness

When should you visit a physician?

Visit your physician in case you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Cough that remains for longer than 2-3 weeks
  • Cough that brings up thick mucus or blood
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath


  • Stay hydrated by drinking fluids every 1-2 hours.
  • Take lots of rest.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Take acetaminophen or aspirin to ease body aches. Aspirin should not be given to children. Moreover, children below the age of 4 years should not take any OTC cold and cough medicines.
  • Follow the instructions given by your physician on methods to help remove the mucus.
  • In case you are bringing up mucus, note the frequency of coughing and the amount and color of mucus. Report these findings to your physician.
  • Your physician may prescribe a cough suppressant or expectorant to either suppress your cough or help loosen your mucus so that it can be coughed up easily.
  • In case your bronchitis is caused due to a bacterial infection, you may be prescribed antibiotics.

2. Pneumonia

Pneumonia may also occur when the infection (either viral or bacterial) from a cold travels into the lungs and causes chest tightness from cold. Pneumonia often gets better in two to three weeks. However, babies, elderly and individuals suffering from other disease may require hospitalization due to pneumonia.


  • Cough with green or rusty or blood tinged mucus
  • Fever of 102 degree F or higher
  • Shortness of breath and fast breathing
  • Chills that are teeth chattering and shaking
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Feeling very weak and tired
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Diarrhea

Pneumonia is diagnosed by doing culture of sputum, blood tests, and chest X-ray.


  • For bacterial pneumonia, you will be prescribed antibiotics by your physician. Make sure to take them as instructed by your physician. Do not stop them once you start feeling better.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of fluids.
  • Take lots of rest. Get plenty of sleep. If you are awakened at night frequently by cough, discuss with your physician about using a cough medicine.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • You may require hospitalization if you have severe symptoms, another serious medical illness or a weakened immunity.
  • Viral pneumonia does not require antibiotics. It usually gets better by home treatment including rest and taking medicines to control cough.

3. Asthma

Chest tightness from cold may also occur in asthma. Asthma is characterized by obstruction and inflammation of air passages, resulting in temporary narrowing of airways.

Causes and trigger factors

The airways of asthmatics are very sensitive and they react adversely to many environmental factors which are referred to as triggers of asthma. Some of these triggers are:

  • Infections including colds, flu and sinusitis
  • Allergens including mold spores, pollens, dust mites and pet dander
  • Irritants including strong odor of cleaning solutions or perfumes and pollution in air
  • Smoke of tobacco
  • Exercise
  • Cold air, changes in humidity or temperature
  • Strong emotions including stress, anxiety, crying or laughter
  • Medicines

Symptoms of asthma attack

An attack of asthma is sudden aggravation of symptoms of asthma. During an attack, the airways become swollen or narrowed and filled with mucus. Symptoms during an attack are:

  • Coughing particularly during night
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness, pressure or pain
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

You may also suffer from other symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, weakness, tightened chest and neck muscles, shallow or rapid breathing.


Asthma is treated by using inhalers, which deliver the drugs of asthma to the lungs. Bronchodilators are the drugs which are used to dilate and relax the airways and open them up. In case of a severe attack of asthma, you may be prescribed oral corticosteroids for short duration.

4. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a chronic lung disease that is characterized by inflammation and obstructed flow of air from lungs. It is of two types: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema the walls of the alveoli or smallest sacs of the lungs are destroyed. Thus the airways are collapsed and airflow is impaired. In chronic bronchitis, the bronchial tubes are inflamed and become narrow. Furthermore, the lungs produce excessive mucus, further blocking the tubes.

Its symptoms are wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness from cold infection, chronic cough producing sputum, frequent infections of respiratory tract, tiredness or fatigue, swelling in legs, feet or ankles, unintentional loss of weight and blue lips or fingernails.

The major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is tobacco smoking.


  • Respiratory infections. Individuals suffering from COPD are prone to get flu, colds and pneumonia.
  • Heart disease. The risk of heart disease and heart attack is increased.
  • Lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is increased.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. The risk of pulmonary hypertension is increased.


The main step in treatment is to stop smoking. The medicines used are bronchodilators, antibiotics and oral steroids. Some patients with severe disease may require oxygen therapy. Surgery may be an option in some patients with severe emphysema.

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