It’s likely that you or a family member will experience chest congestion this fall and winter, but you don’t have to suffer through it. 

Chest congestion refers to a build-up of fluid, mucus or an infection in the lungs. Symptoms vary depending on the severity and the underlying cause, but some common signs include: a regular cough, tight feeling in your lungs and chest, and shortness of breath.

The common cold, flu, and pneumonia can cause chest congestion, as well as more long-term conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease. “Cold and flu season can be challenging for people who have COPD, because it can lead to a lung attack,” says Chris Haromy, a Certified Respiratory Educator at The Lung Association - Ontario. “There are ways to reduce the risk of getting a lung infection, including getting a flu shot, regular hand washing, getting a COPD action plan from your healthcare provider.”

Typically, chest infections will resolve in about 10 days, but Haromy suggests that someone with COPD, who experiences a shortness of breath or whose symptoms are not getting better after 48 hours should see a doctor. “Follow your COPD action plan. If you ever have shortness of breath or your symptoms are not getting better after 48 hours, see your healthcare provider or go to the emergency department.”

For more information, call The Lung Association Lung Health Information Line at 1 888 344 5864, email or visit