Wheezing – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment


What is wheezing?
Wheezing is a continuous, coarse, high-pitched whistling sound heard while breathing. It is produced in the respiratory airways when air moves through them. Wheezing is a sign that a person may be having breathing problems due to an underlying health condition.

The sound of wheezing is most noticeable when breathing out, but it may also be heard when breathing in.

What causes wheezing?
Wheezing is mainly caused by narrowed airways or inflammation. Many things can cause problems in airways.

The following are the common causes of wheezing:

  • Breathing a foreign object into the airways to the lungs
  • Damage and widening of the large airways in the lungs (bronchiectasis)
  • Swelling and mucus buildup in the smallest air passages in the lungs (bronchiolitis)
  • Swelling and mucus buildup in the main passages that carry air to the lungs (bronchitis)
  • Asthma
  • COPD, especially when a respiratory infection is present
  • Acid reflux disease
  • Heart failure (cardiac asthma)
  • Insect sting that causes an allergic reaction
  • Certain medicines (mainly aspirin)
  • Infection of the lungs (pneumonia)
  • Smoking
  • Viral infection, especially in infants younger than age 2

What are the symptoms of wheezing?
A harsh, high-pitched whistling sound while breathing is the main symptoms of the wheezing. Shortness of breath may also occur along with wheezing.

How is wheezing diagnosed?
The doctor will perform a physical exam and review medical history and symptoms. Questions about your wheezing may include when it started, how long it has lasted when it is worse, and what might have caused it. The physical exam may include listening to the lung sounds with a stethoscope.

The doctor may order the following tests for diagnosis:

  • Chest x-ray
  • Lung function tests
  • Blood tests to check oxygen level

How is wheezing treated?
The doctor will treat the underlying condition, such as inflammation, asthma, bronchitis, or others that caused wheezing. He/she may recommend hospitalization if:

  • Breathing is particularly difficult
  • The person needs to be closely watched by medical personnel
  • Medicines need to be given through a vein (IV)
  • Supplemental oxygen is required

This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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