Phlegm (mucus) is produced in the lungs by the immune system when it is trying to get rid of an infection. This is different to a dry or tickly cough, which do not produce mucus, and which happen in response to irritation in the throat or pharynx.
With a chesty cough, you may also experience a feeling of constriction or congestion in your chest and lungs. The difference between a normal cough and a chesty cough is often infection. In an ordinary cough, the airways may be irritated but there may not necessarily be an infection present.
The chest constriction of a cough is usually due to the volume of phlegm produced by the lungs, which is a sign that the body is trying to clear an infection. Other symptoms of a chesty cough include a heavy or tight feeling in the chest and a rattling feeling or sound in the chest when you are coughing or breathing. You may or may not have a fever.
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Some common health conditions causing a chesty cough include:
- Colds and flu
- Lung infections including pneumonia and TB (tuberculosis)
- Other medical conditions, including acute or chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, or airway obstruction (COPD)
- Smoking cigarettes can irritate the lungs, leading to excessive production of mucus.
What to do next
Make an appointment to see one of our specialists if you are experiencing symptoms of a chesty cough. The sooner you visit the doctor, the sooner you can get diagnosed and receive treatment.
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This is because a chesty cough will bring up (produce) mucus from your chest into your throat.
The doctor will ask you about your past medical and family history, and inquire about associated symptoms. A physical exam includes listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. In some cases, you may be recommended to have a chest x-ray, lung function test (with a spirometer).
Chesty coughs are commonly caused by respiratory tract infections, colds, and flu, or infections caused by irritants such as dust, viruses, or bacteria. The symptoms are produced when phlegm builds up in the lungs and results in congestion.