It can be unsettling and frightening if your chest feels uncomfortably tight and you are short of breath when exposed to certain allergens. If you think you may experience a tight chest from allergies, read on to learn more about the relationship between allergies and a tight chest, its causes, and the available treatments.
Can Allergies Cause Tightness in Chest?
While most people are only familiar with allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes, allergies can also cause chest tightness and pain when you’re exposed to your allergy trigger. Chest pain and tightness are more common for those with allergy-induced asthma.
How Do Allergies Cause Chest Pain?
Allergies can cause chest pains through allergic asthma or allergic bronchitis. Allergic asthma is asthma triggered by allergens that lead to the tightening of the airways. Allergic bronchitis occurs when your bronchi become inflamed due to allergens, leading to a tight feeling in the chest and shortness of breath.
Since both of these conditions narrow the airways, they make it harder for allergy sufferers to breathe. This difficulty in breathing can lead to chest tightness, chest pains, or discomfort. The tightness can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of your allergy.
In addition, these inflammatory processes can irritate the chest wall lining, leading to pain and discomfort. Allergens such as dust, pet dander, and pollen can also lead to inflammation in the lungs or airways. Prolonged exposure to these allergens may cause chest tightness and pain.
What Does Chest Tightness From Allergies Feel Like?
Chest tightness due to allergies can be uncomfortable. It is often described as a squeezing sensation. It may feel like someone is pressing down on your chest with a heavy weight. Some people also experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing.
What Else Causes A Tight Chest?
Chest tightness can also be caused by sinus infections. Sinus infection, or sinusitis, is a common condition that occurs when the lining of your sinuses becomes inflamed and swollen due to an infection. These can result in chest pain and tightness due to the pressure and inflammation in your chest.
The most common causes of sinus infections include:
When seasonal allergies flare up, they can cause inflammation in your nose, sinuses, and throat. This inflammation can lead to increased mucus production and blockage of the sinuses, resulting in a sinus infection. Seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever triggers sinus infections by creating a breeding ground (mucus) for bacteria or viruses.
When a common cold virus enters the body, it can cause inflammation in the nasal passages and sinuses by blocking them. This inflammation leads to an increase in mucus production, which then becomes trapped within the cavities of the sinuses due to congestion of the upper respiratory system. If left untreated, this trapped mucus provides a perfect environment for bacteria to grow and multiply, leading to a sinus infection.
Smoke has tiny particles that can enter the nose and throat, irritating and inflaming the delicate mucous membranes of the sinuses. This inflammation triggers the immune system to respond by increasing mucus production, which can lead to a sinus infection. The substances in tobacco smoke, such as nicotine, can damage the nasal membrane and cause overcrowding of bacteria in the sinuses.
Polyps are non-cancerous growths that form on the lining of the nose or sinuses. They can block the nasal and sinus passages, making it difficult for mucus to drain and for air to flow freely through them. This restricted airflow makes it easier for bacteria or viruses to enter the cavities, leading to an infection.
A Deviated Septum
The septum is a thin piece of tissue that separates the two sides of the nose. When this tissue is warped or bent, it can obstruct one or both nostrils and make breathing difficult. This blockage can cause inflammation in the sinuses, leading to a sinus infection.
It's worth mentioning that allergies and sinus infections are not the only causes of a tight chest. Other issues, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), panic disorder, pneumonia, and pulmonary hypertension, can make your chest feel tight.
Chest Tightness Symptoms
The primary symptom of chest tightness is a feeling of pressure in the chest. However, you can experience other symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing and coughing
- Swelling of the neck and face
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
- Feeling weak or fatigued
- A pain that spreads to your neck or back
The symptoms of chest tightness can range from mild to severe and can come on suddenly or gradually. Even when the symptoms are mild, it's essential to see a doctor for an evaluation, as chest tightness can signify a more serious medical condition. The tightness may result from a serious condition like an asthma attack.
Risk Factors of Chest Tightness
Several risk factors can increase the risk of chest tightness. These include:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: COPD is a disease that causes chronic lung inflammation and obstructs the airflow to the lungs. The blockage leads to breathing difficulties and increases the risk of chest pain.
Seasonal allergies: Seasonal allergy symptoms such as shortness of breath can increase the risk of chest tightness. Allergens such as pollen, mold, and dust mites can cause inflammation in the airways, leading to chest discomfort.
Asthma: Asthma is a chronic disease that affects breathing by narrowing the airways and making breathing harder. Chest tightness is one of the common asthma symptoms and can be triggered by allergens, smoke, or other irritants.
Lifestyle habits: Habits like smoking and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of chest tightness. Smoking can irritate the airways, leading to airway obstruction and difficulty breathing. Heavy alcohol consumption can worsen existing medical conditions that lead to chest tightness.
Environment or occupation: Working in a dusty environment like a construction site or being around certain chemicals can put you at a higher risk for chest tightness. These environmental factors can cause allergic reactions and inflammation in the lungs and airways, making breathing more difficult.
Medical procedures: Certain procedures, such as coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) and stent placement, can lead to chest tightness. They can trigger coronary spasms that cause the chest to feel tight or heavy.
Emotional stress: Stress, anxiety, and depression can cause chest tightness in some people. The tightness occurs due to an increase in the body's fight-or-flight response, which causes the heart rate to speed up and breathing patterns to change.
How Long Does Chest Pain Last?
Chest pain can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. The duration of the chest pain depends on the underlying cause. For example, if you're suffering from a panic attack, the chest tightness may subside once the adrenaline rush passes.
But if a heart attack or pulmonary hypertension causes chest pain, the discomfort may persist until you receive medical treatment. In case of a heart attack, the chest pain may be accompanied by other signs such as dizziness and a crushing pressure on the chest. Other causes of chest pain that can last for hours or days include coronary artery disease, pneumonia, and asthma attacks.
When to See a Doctor
Chest pain that happens for only a few minutes and disappears may not indicate something serious. It could be due to a muscle spasm or a minor infection.
However, seeking medical attention is crucial if you experience chest tightness or pain that doesn't go away. You should also see a doctor if the pain is recurring and keeps returning after a few days or weeks.
Seek immediate medical care if the chest pain is:
- Getting worse gradually
- Intense and persists for long periods of time
- Accompanied by shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and dizziness
- Lasts for more than a few minutes
- Accompanied by a crushing or squeezing sensation in the chest
- Spreads to the arms, back, neck, or jaw
- Starts with sweating, vomiting, and nausea
Immediate medical care is necessary because chest pain can signify a life-threatening condition such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.
How is Chest Pain From Allergies Diagnosed?
A physician can diagnose chest pain through physical examinations, laboratory tests, imaging studies such as X-rays or CT scans, or electrocardiograms (ECGs). Depending on the individual situation and other symptoms, the doctor may order various tests to accurately diagnose the cause of the chest pain.
If the doctor rules out heart-related issues as the major cause of your chest pain, they may suggest an allergy test to determine if allergies are contributing to the discomfort. The test can help identify specific allergy triggers and allergens that cause symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, or trouble breathing.
The doctor can use two types of allergy tests to diagnose allergies: skin prick tests and at-home allergy tests. Skin prick tests involve pricking the skin with purified allergen extracts to determine which allergens trigger an allergic reaction in the body. While this test is especially helpful in identifying allergens, it can also cause mild discomfort during skin pricking and is inconvenient since you have to go to the doctor's office.
An at-home allergy test from Wyndly provides a convenient alternative to skin prick tests. All you need to do is order a test kit online, and Wyndly will deliver it to your door.
Once you get the kit, take a simple finger-prick test and send us the sample back, enclosed in the provided envelope. Our doctors will interpret your allergy profile and create a personalized treatment plan to desensitize your body to the allergens causing your chest pain.
If you experience chest pain due to seasonal allergy symptoms, dust mites, pet dander, or other environmental triggers, various treatment options can alleviate your discomfort. These include:
You can use over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication to temporarily relieve allergy symptoms such as chest tightness. OTC medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, and corticosteroids are available without a prescription and can relieve mild symptoms like allergic rhinitis. For instance, antihistamines can temporarily block the release of histamines that can trigger an allergic reaction, while decongestants reduce inflammation in the nasal passages.
If OTC medications aren't enough to manage your symptoms, your doctor may recommend prescription-strength corticosteroids or asthma medications for more severe cases. The medicines will reduce inflammation and block the release of chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.
Limiting your exposure to allergens can reduce the frequency and severity of your symptoms. For instance, you can allergy-proof your home by keeping your windows closed when the pollen counts are high to reduce exposure to outdoor allergens to reduce the risk of asthma symptoms. Other ways of limiting exposure include changing air filters often and vacuuming regularly to remove pet dander and dust mites.
The most effective way to treat allergies is through sublingual immunotherapy. This type of allergy treatment gradually desensitizes the body to allergens by introducing small doses of the allergen directly into your system. Sublingual immunotherapy causes long-term changes to your immune system and reduces allergic reactions over time.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you're tired of allergies affecting your quality of life, it's time to find long-term relief by working with our doctors at Wyndly. Our allergy doctors will create a personalized treatment plan to help you live allergy-free. Take our brief online assessment now to get started!