Why does your chest hurt when you have a cold?

Colds are the worst. Sniffling, sneezing, coughing – all that jazz. But just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, boom! Your chest starts to ache. What’s up with that? In this informative article we’ll explore the reasons why your chest hurts when you have a cold.

A Pain in the…Chest?

The sound of colds is like music to my ears, said no one ever. It’s probably one of the most unpleasant sounds known to man( and woman): The hacking coughs, wheezes and rattling chests are enough to make anyone want to slam their head against a wall. But what exactly causes that chest pain? Well folks, put on your lab-coats because we’re about dive into some scientific explanations!

The Lowdown

So first things first: What exactly happens in your body during a common cold? You may be surprised to know that over 200 viruses cause cold symptoms, with rhinovirus being responsible for between 30-50% of cases! Here’s how it works:

  • Cold virus enters nose or mouth
  • Virus replicates itself
  • Immune system attempts an attack
  • Inflammation occurs
  • Mucus builds up
  • Sickness ensues

Throughout this process, inflammation can occur anywhere in your respiratory tract – from your sinuses down into your lungs – which is where those painful pressure points often occur.

Ow ow ow! Why Me?!

Remember how nasty viruses create inflammation throughout the body while they’re working hard multiplying cells like crazy little machines? This same intense activity (i.e., annoying behavior) within our bronchial tubes also activates nerves triggering concurrent muscle contractions (technical term = bronchospasms). These pesky little spasms result in that painful tightening you feel in your chest. In laymen’s terms, your body is kinda betraying you.

Not Just Any Muscle Spasm

Not all muscle spasms are created equal though! Remember when we mentioned that your immune system fights back against the virus? Well, as part of this response your body releases a chemical called histamine (better known for making us want to claw our eyes out during allergy season). Histamine causes blood vessels to become more permeable, which can lead to fluid and white blood cells leaking into tissue- producing inflammation (See figure 1 below).

| Figure 1: A schematic demonstrating how inflammation works |
| —|

Now heres where things get interesting: pain receptors within the inflamed tissue end up being activated by these chemical messengers leading primarily to increased awareness of pain or discomfort. Allergic reactions can produce swelling around larynx which tends to be most severe ~around~ below vocal cords thus causing difficulty breathing.

There’s More?

Yes indeed there is more heading your way so fasten those lab-coats folks!

Cold and Flu Symptoms Checklist

So many symptoms! How does one keep track? Sing along now… 🎶 On the first day on my cold I had:

  1. Sore throat
  2. Perfuse runny nose
  3. Sneezed like an AK47
  4. Whole-body fatigue
  5. That “phlegmy” cough that induces sore abs from coughing too hard.
    6.. Oh god did someone put sandpaper in my throat?!
    7…What’s this?? Chest Pain??

Just when things were starting looking up…you add chest pains into that cheery mix?!

Diagnosis: Straight Outta Google ?

You’re probably thinking: Do I have a cold or do I sighs…have that pesky flu virus? Well, while there are some common symptoms between the two– such as chest pain – there are ways to differentiate!. The Flu is typically associated with having more of an abrupt onset compared to a cold. In fact, chest pain isn’t likely one of the early signs of either, but if you start feeling those sharp pains even before other symptoms really kick in it’s best to get yourself checked out (1).

What Can You Do At Home?

Aaaaaaand this wouldn’t be a blog without providing at least SOME remedies for your chest discomfort! So here’s what you do:

  • Stay hydrated! Think Gatorade(or electrolyte-enriched hydration at minimum)
  • Avoid cigarette smoke and pollution.
  • Get ample rest
  • Consider purchasing travel pillow- extra support when napping may just make all difference for conquering that hacking cough. Alternatively invest in comfy fluffy pyjamas and a cozy blanket!

Note: Just because “it’s just” chest pain doesn’t mean you can discount anything else… say no to Munchausen syndrome wannabe behavior.

In summary, we’ve looked into why your chest hurts whilst battling through a nasty cold(2). Your immune system fighting back -triggering inflammation and histamine – creates painful bronchospasms thus producing pleuritic-like pressure on the lungs. Whilst home remedies definitely help with relieving symptoms , it’s crucial not undermine any presentation unusual presentations(3) With all these tools now under our belt let’s teach Mother Nature who’s boss and show her we won’t let her fancy viruses wreck us up like piñatas anymore!

TLDR: Chest tightness during respiratory infections comes from cytokine release (chemical messengers regaulte inflammatory response) promoting histamine release causing bronchospasm and/ or inflammatory related pleurisy. Often, the only thing you can do for this type of chest discomfort is treat the underlying cold with rest, medication (OTC) and hydration.. though other symptom may arise so , as always: stay vigilant folks!