Tickle in the chest: Coughs, anxieties, allergies, and other causes

In this article, we describe conditions that can lead to a tickle in the chest, how to tell if the symptom is serious, and how it should be managed.

Causes of a tickle in the chest

Several conditions that pose no serious health risks can lead to a tickle in the chest. It is often not a cause for concern.

Colds and hay fever can lead to a tickle in the chest or throat. It is a very common symptom of these conditions, and it will often go away within a few days. A person may need mild treatment or none.

Other symptoms of a common cold often include:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • fatigue
  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • headaches
  • muscle aches
  • a raised temperature
  • a sore throat

Other symptoms of hay fever may include:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • runny or blocked nose
  • itchy throat, mouth or nose
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • itchy, red eyes

In some cases, a tickle in the chest indicates a more serious health condition, such as those described below. These conditions may require more extended medical treatment.

Asthma is a common, life-long condition that affects the lungs. It causes the airways to narrow, which leads to breathing difficulties. Asthma can develop at any age, but it often starts during childhood.

Other symptoms of asthma include:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • a wheezing sound when breathing
  • a feeling of tightness in the chest

Irregular heartbeat

An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, occurs when the heart does not beat with its usual rhythm. A tickle in the chest can be a sign of this condition.

Having an irregular heartbeat is common, and it is often not harmful. In rare cases, however, arrhythmia can be extremely serious and carry severe health risks.

The main symptom of arrhythmia is a single premature heartbeat or a flurry of them. A flurry can lead to a fluttering sensation in the chest or neck.

In more serious cases, the following lasting symptoms may develop:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • fainting
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

In very rare cases, sudden cardiac arrest can occur.

Acid reflux

Acid reflux, or heartburn, happens when stomach acid enters the throat. This causes a burning sensation at the back of the throat or chest. Most episodes of acid reflux are brief, but if it reoccurs often, this is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD can cause a tickle in the chest, as well as:

  • an unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • coughing
  • hiccups
  • a hoarse voice
  • bloating
  • nausea


Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It can be serious, particularly in the very young and in older people with weakened immune systems. One symptom is a tickling sensation in the chest.

Other symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • coughing
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • a loss of appetite
  • a rapid heartbeat


Anxiety refers to an overwhelming sense of panic or fear that can stop a person from doing what they normally would. Experiencing this panic or fear is often a sign of a clinically recognized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms. In addition to a tickle in the chest, symptoms can include:

  • an increased heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling
  • difficulty breathing
  • disorganized or rapid thought patterns
  • restlessness
  • insomnia

The most effective way to treat a tickle in the chest is to address the underlying cause.

The symptom usually results from irritation in the chest or throat, which may be caused by the common cold or bronchitis.

A person should seek a diagnosis and any necessary treatment. In the meantime, the following strategies can help to reduce chest and throat irritation:

  • not lying flat on the back
  • sleeping with extra pillows to prop up the body slightly
  • avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • ensuring that surroundings are clean and free from dust and other irritants
  • taking over-the-counter cough medication
  • gargling with salt water
  • boiling water and drinking it with a slice of lemon and honey

An irregular heartbeat often does not require treatment, but people who suspect that they have arrhythmia should see. Treatment may involve medication to help control the heart rate and taking steps to avoid complications.

If the cause of a tickle in the chest is acid reflux, it may help to avoid foods that are rich in fat, spicy, or rich. A person may also benefit from eating smaller meals and refraining from eating for a few hours before bed.

For people with anxiety, symptoms are usually triggered by certain stimuli or situations. To manage symptoms, it is important to identify these triggers. A mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist, can help to guide a person through the process.

When to see a doctor

Common colds and hay fever can usually be treated with over-the-counter medication.

Seek medical attention for a tickle in the chest if symptoms last longer than a week. Extended symptoms may show that a person has a more serious condition, such as bronchitis, pneumonia or asthma.

Anyone who suspects that they have an irregular heartbeat should see a doctor immediately, as this condition can be dangerous.

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