For many people, the first concern they think of when someone experiences painful breathing is pneumonia. As you will find out later, that’s not necessarily the case, but respiratory infections are certainly a possible cause of painful respiration. Even though the lungs don't have pain receptors, surrounding tissues can become inflamed, tender, and painful, so lung conditions can actually cause pain while breathing.
Painful breathing caused by respiratory infections is more pronounced when you take a deep breath or lie down, and it’s rarely the only symptom. Shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, fever, chills, fatigue, night sweats, or other cold and flu symptoms usually co-occur with painful respiration and help point your physician in the right direction.
The following respiratory infections can cause pain with breathing:
Here’s an important side note. Pain with breathing can be a sign of severe COVID-19 - according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you were diagnosed with Covid or experience any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical help:
Painful breathing is also sometimes reported in patients with long Covid or post COVID-19 syndrome for as long as 3 months after the initial COVID-19 diagnosis.
If you experience difficulty breathing and pain with respiration, don’t assume that an infection is to blame. Certain lung injuries and disorders can produce identical symptoms. Some of the most common respiratory conditions that fall within this group are:
In some cases, pain in the chest may not be linked to your vital organs at all. The chest area contains a lot of bones, cartilage, muscles, and other connective tissue that could be responsible for pain while breathing. This pain can get worse when you breathe more deeply or with certain movements. The pain may also get better when you reposition the body or move after a long period of sitting or standing.
Here are a few of such conditions:
Several types of heart disease can trigger chest pain while breathing, shortness of breath, or other types of breathing discomfort. The pain can also spread to the arm, shoulder, neck, and jaw. Statistical data reveals that more than a quarter of all patients with heart-related health issues seek medical help because of breathing discomfort.
Some other symptoms that point towards a heart-related condition are an irregular heartbeat, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, dizziness, burning sensations, and nausea.
What conditions can produce these symptoms? There are a great many of them, but we feature some of the most serious and common ones below:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as acid reflux, is a health condition that occurs because the muscle that prevents stomach acids from going up into the esophagus is malfunctioning. When the acids leak out into the esophagus, they damage and irritate the lining of the esophagus, which usually causes a burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn.
GERD is very common - it affects 1 in 5 Americans. Although heartburn is the most common symptom of this condition, some patients also report a chronic cough and pain with breathing. However, the majority of symptoms associated with GERD still involve the digestive system - difficulty swallowing, nausea, and bad breath.
Even though GERD isn’t considered a life-threatening condition, it could lead to complications and should be addressed by your doctor.
Related Article: 6 Signs of Acid Reflux
Panic attacks are extreme and unbearable. Sudden waves of anxiety and fear, often accompanied by shallow breathing, are the hallmark of panic attacks. For those who have never experienced a panic attack, the symptoms can resemble a heart attack or a respiratory issue, but symptoms usually go away after 20-30 minutes.
Panic attacks occur as a response to stress, excessive exercise, or even after drinking too much coffee. These events send your body into stress mode, and you will start breathing very quickly. The resulting hyperventilation usually causes even more troubling symptoms, including painful breathing, heart palpitations, sweating, shortness of breath, and losing the sense of reality.
Some people experience panic attacks regularly, whereas others only get them once or twice, if ever. Breathing techniques and spending time in a calm and safe space can help a person experiencing a panic attack recover more quickly.
Related Article: How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack
Painful respiration can point to a number of very serious conditions, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Any unexplained chest pain, even if it seems minor, is best reported to a medical professional. Your healthcare provider can help you rule out serious conditions or make sure that the condition you have isn’t progressing.
Contact emergency services IMMEDIATELY if you have chest pain with any of the following symptoms:
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