Barrel Chest: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and More


Barrel chest happens when the chest is rounded or puffed up like a barrel. When you have a barrel chest, your chest or rib cage will resemble you are taking a deep breath regularly. If you look at your chest from the side, it will appear bigger from front to back than normal. Barrel chest isn’t a condition, yet it is a sign of several various other conditions that can happen in both adults as well as children.

This article looks at several of the common conditions that can offer you a bulging chest and how barrel chest is treated.

What Is a Barrel Chest?

Barrel chest occurs when the lungs become overfilled (hyperinflated) with air — like a balloon — as they work harder. This maintains the rib cage open or increased for a long time. This occurs frequently due to a chronic lung problem, yet various other diseases and also conditions may cause it as well.

What Are The Symptoms of Barrel Chest?

The primary symptom of barrel chest is a rounded and also enlarged appearance of the chest. If you have a barrel chest, you additionally might have signs and symptoms of other health conditions, such as:

  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • gasping
  • lung mucous or phlegm
  • bronchitis
  • shortness of breath
  • sore or stiff chest
  • rib tenderness
  • back soreness
  • difficult relocating or exercising
  • posture changes like stooping over
  • low oxygen levels
  • high carbon dioxide levels

What Conditions Are Associated With Barrel Chest?

Barrel chest is usually brought on by lung conditions. When the lungs overfill with air, they push out the ribs, chest, bones in the top back. Gradually, barrel chest establishes.

Barrel chest can often occur to people with conditions that impact the joints in the rib cage and also other bones of the chest as well as back. Some hospital treatments for problems that impact the lungs may also lead to a barrel chest.

Right here are common conditions that might trigger barrel chest:


Asthma is the most common cause of a barrel chest in children as well as adults. Approximately 7.8 percent of people in the United States have asthma. This chronic problem happens when inflammation — swelling and mucous — narrows the airways of the lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe. When the airways obtain really obstructed the lungs can over-inflate leading to a barrel chest.

Some children with severe asthma may also have tummies that look sunken in. This is since the muscular tissues around and under the lungs are working harder to obtain air right into the lungs. Seasonal allergies, colds, as well as flu can aggravate symptoms in adults as well as children with asthma.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for several type of lung illness that occur when airflow is blocked from the lungs. This can happen due to lung swelling, scarring, mucus, and also various other damage. Symptoms consist of wheezing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, and also barrel chest.

Most people with COPD have a history of other lung issues like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, as well as cigarette smoker’s coughing. Research studies show that children with extreme asthma have a greater threat of establishing COPD in adulthood.


Emphysema is a lung condition that happens when the lungs — little air cavities or bubbles at the ends of little breathing tubes in the lungs —- are harmed or destroyed. This can take place from smoking, contamination, chemicals, and also various other toxic irritants getting into the lungs.

Alveoli air cavities are where the blood goes to get oxygen and also produce carbon dioxide. When the lungs are destroyed, huge spaces develop in the lungs. This makes it harder for the body to get oxygen. The lungs try to help by breathing as well as holding in extra air, leading to a barrel chest.

Information verified by the team.

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an acquired (genetic) problem that affects the lungs and also other parts of the body. This disease makes the mucous in the lungs thick and sticky. The thick mucous can clog the lungs, making it harder to take a breath. As an individual works harder to breathe, they may establish barrel chest.


Arthritis in the rib, back, as well as chest wall joints can lead to a barrel chest. This is extra common in older grownups yet can occur in children in unusual cases. It takes place when the ribs and also back obtain so stiff or inflamed they obtain embeded an inhale or open position.

Various kinds of arthritis can create barrel chest, consisting of:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • osteo arthritis
  • adolescent idiopathic arthritis
  • costochondritis, which is arthritis in the ribs

Genetic Conditions

Other rare genetic conditions can impact the rib cage and also bones in the back, triggering a barrel chest. These inherited problems consist of:

  • pectus carinatum
  • scoliosis
  • Dyggve-Melchior-Clausen syndrome
  • Marfan syndrome
  • sialidosis

How Is Barrel Chest Diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely be able to tell if you have a barrel chest just by looking at you. You may also have an X-ray of your chest as well as back to confirm.

If you have an underlying lung problem, your doctor may recommend lung function tests like spirometry to see how well your lungs are working. You might likewise require a blood test to check your blood gases and also inflammation levels.

You may need even more tests to figure out what is triggering your barrel chest.

A barrel chest can be diagnosed by your family doctor. You may also need to see a lung specialist, called a pulmonologist, or an arthritis specialist, called a rheumatologist, relying on the cause of this symptom.

How Is Barrel Chest Treated?

While there is no particular therapy for barrel chest, for lots of people, treating the underlying health condition might significantly reduce barrel chest. If you have a lung condition like asthma or COPD, you will need day-to-day drugs to aid keep it controlled. Taking care of lung diseases can aid prevent barrel chest and various other symptoms.

Your doctor might additionally advise anti-inflammatory drugs and also a special diet to help reduce swelling in your lungs and joints. Exercise treatment like swimming, stretches, and yoga might also aid.

There is not yet a typical treatment to repair a barrel chest. However, researchers are researching ways to repair the rib bones with surgical treatment to aid heal a barrel chest in individuals that have this symptom.

The Bottom Line

Barrel chest is a symptom of several type of health conditions that influence the lungs or joints in the chest and back. It can take place to both children as well as adults as well as is usually rather simple for a doctor to diagnose.

In some cases, treating the underlying condition may aid improve the appearance of the chest in people with barrel chest, however the problem is usually permanent.

Ali Gadimov
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