What is wheezing?

Wheezing can be defined as a high pitched whistling sound or wheezing sound usually produced during expiration but sometimes during inhalation as well. A wheezing sound is produced when air moves through narrowed breathing tubes in the lungs. When wheezing occurs, it indicates that a person is having trouble breathing. While it typically occurs in the bronchial tubes, which are small tubes deep in the lungs, it can also occur due to a blockage present in larger airways or when there is a problem in the vocal chords. Wheezing can occur in children and adults alike and there are plenty of remedies and medications for wheezing. However wheezing can a symptom of an underlying disease and usually the type of medication prescribed depends on an accurate and thorough diagnosis by a doctor.

There are plenty of factors that can cause wheezing. Allergies to dust or food, stress, anxiety, obesity and even heart problems can result in wheezing. Smoking or even prolonged exposure to smoke can also lead to wheezing.

Toddlers and children may also experience wheezing due to asthma, respiratory infections such as a cold and other lung diseases. Those who have a family history of allergies or suffer from viral infections are more likely to develop breathing problems at some point in their future.

What does wheezing indicate?
Alternately, wheezing could be also be a symptom of a more serious disorder. If you or your child are wheezing and notice any of the accompanying symptoms then it is vital that you consult a healthcare practitioner immediately. The list below details the key diseases and disorders that wheezing can indicate along with additional symptoms to look out for.

  • Asthma

    Accompanying symptoms: Coughing (noticeable at night), breathlessness or shortness of breath, tightness in the chest often with added pain, or pressure.
    Read More about Asthma.

  • Allergies (Dust)

    Accompanying symptoms: Sneezing, running or blocked nose, redness in the eyes along with an itchy feeling, tightness in the chest.
    Read More about Allergies.

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

    Accompanying symptoms: Difficulty breathing especially during or after physical exertion, tightness is the chest, necessity to clear the throat in the morning, chronic cough with excess sputum, bluish lips or nail beds, increased frequency of infections of the respiratory tract, fatigue.
    Read More aboutCOPD.

  • Emphysema

    Accompanying symptoms: Coughing, pain or tightness in the chest, loss of appetite, weight loss, poor quality of sleep, reduced sexual function, depression.

  • Lung Cancer

    Accompanying symptoms: Coughing, chest pain, back pain or shoulder pain when coughing, change in colour or volume of sputum, breathlessness, developing a hoarse voice, breathing with harsh sounds, recurring occurrence of lung diseases such as bronchitis, bloody phlegm or mucus, coughing up blood.

  • Sleep Apnoea

    Accompanying symptoms: Loud snoring, disturbed sleep, awakening with dry mouth or a sore throat, insomnia, excessive sleepiness in the day, difficulty with attention, episodes of breathing cessation when asleep, headache in the morning upon waking up.

  • Respiratory tract infection

    Accompanying symptoms: Sneezing, nasal congestion and discharge, running nose, fever, sore or itchy throat.

  • Vocal cord dysfunction

    Accompanying symptoms: Difficulty breathing, tightness in the throat, tightness in the chest, excess mucus production, noisy breathing, hoarse voice, feeling of suffocation.

  • Gastro oesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

    Accompanying symptoms: Sore throat, hoarseness, laryngitis, chronic dry cough asthma, increase in saliva, halitosis, earaches, pain in the chest.


Short term illnesses that cause wheezing
Similarly, wheezing can also be caused by short term illness and in some cases can indicate a health emergency.

  • Anaphylaxis

    This is a severe allergic reaction that usually occurs almost immediately after exposure to an allergen. Wheezing can be a quick indicator of anaphylaxis. Some other symptoms to look out for are a weak pulse, rapid rash on the skin, nausea, vomiting and breathlessness. If someone enters an anaphylactic shock in front of you take them to the hospital immediately for treatment.

  • Bronchiolitis

    A common lung infection in children and infants, bronchiolitis causes the small airways or bronchioles to become inflamed and congested. It is usually caused by a virus and begins with symptoms that are typical to the common cold. However at a later stage it can result in wheezing and breathing difficulties. It can last for several days, up to a month or so.
    Some children and babies are more like to develop wheezing after a case of bronchiolitis, especially when they catch a cold or catch a respiratory tract infection.

  • Bronchitis

    Bronchitis occurs when the lining of the bronchial tubes are inflamed. There are two types of bronchitis, acute and chronic. While acute bronchitis is usually due to a cold or infection, chronic bronchitis is long term and often caused by smoking. Wheezing is one of the most significant symptoms of bronchitis. The treatment for both wheezing and bronchitis depends on the nature of the diagnosis. In case you notice any of the symptoms including, cough with mucus, fatigue, difficulty breathing, fever accompanied by the chills, discomfort in the chest, and wheezing, contact your healthcare professional immediately.
    Read More about Bronchitis.

  • Inhaling a foreign object

    Children and infants are extremely susceptible to inadvertently swallowing or inhaling a foreign object. This can result in wheezing, difficulty breathing or inhaling, choking and coughing. Call emergency services immediately in case such an incident occurs.

  • Pneumonia

    Pneumonia can be caused either by bacteria, viruses or fungi. This infection inflames the air sacs in the lungs. As a result these sacs may fill up with fluid or pus leading to a phlegmy cough, fever, chills and breathlessness. Wheezing is one of the most common symptoms of pneumonia and it is important to take adequate precautions when diagnosed. Sometimes the wheezing can persist months after pneumonia. In such a case it is important to contact your doctor and discuss the situation with them.

  • Reaction to smoking

    Regular smoking can also causing wheezing along with other long term respiratory diseases. Sometimes a smoker will experience wheezing when lying down. Should this occur, a medical consultation is of paramount importance. Apart from prescribed medications and treatments, it is important to quit smoking to reduce wheezing.

  • Respiratory tract infection

    Wheezing is also a classic symptom of a wide range of respiratory tract infections, some of which have been detailed above such as bronchitis and pneumonia. However wheezing can also occurs when diagnosed with the flu or the common cold. Consult a physician should you notice the typical symptoms of a cold or cough coupled with wheezing for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.


Diagnosis of underlying disease

Diagnosis of underlying disease

Diagnosing the cause for wheezing can be a tricky process. After all wheezing is usually a symptom of an underlying illness or disease and is usually accompanied by other symptoms.

The doctor will enquire about your symptoms, triggers and history of lung disease, if any. He/she may also examine your lungs using a stethoscope to check the severity of the wheezing. Along with this, he/she may conduct a few tests such as spirometry, chest x-ray and lung function tests to establish a diagnosis.

Evaluating children can be a difficult task as they may be too young to perform lung function tests. For this reason, parents should talk about the symptoms, their severity and the frequency of occurrence and answer questions raised by the doctor as clearly as possible.

Sometimes a doctor might need a differential diagnostic procedure in order to correctly identify the condition. A differential diagnosis is used to identify an illness where the accompanying symptoms can correlate to different diseases and illnesses. Your physician will employ a wide range of diagnostic tests to identify the cause of wheezing and prescribe a treatment plan accordingly.


How to Treat Wheezing?
your  doctor will prescribe an entire treatment plan for wheezing Once diagnosed, your doctor will prescribe an entire treatment plan for wheezing as well as its underlying cause. Based on your diagnosis you may be prescribed with some of the following:

  • Asthma controller medication to reduce inflammation of airways
  • An inhaled corticosteroid
  • Fast acting bronchodilator inhaler
  • Long-acting bronchodilator


Furthermore, you can also take a few steps that can help you manage wheezing:

  • Increase moisture

    Add a humidifier to your room to increase moisture in the air. If you experience mild wheezing, inhaling moist air can open up the lungs and bring relief in most instances

  • Stay hydrated

    Drink warm liquids to loosen the mucus and prevent clogging in your airways, thus making it easier for you to breathe.

  • Get steam treatments

    The warmth from steam can relax tightened muscles and facilitate easier breathing. Inhale steam or take steamy showers to improve breathing.

  • Exercise

    Join a class for breathing exercises such as meditation or yoga to increase the strength of your lungs. Apart from this, you can also spend some time doing mild exercises such as walking daily few times a week. This is beneficial for long term control over asthma.

  • Avoid triggers

    Identify and avoid triggers that induce wheezing. Common triggers include smoke, dander, perfumes, chemicals and odours that may irritate the airways and cause breathing problems.

Call your doctor

Call your doctor immediately if you experience severe difficulty in breathing. In such cases, you may be administered with:

  • A ventilator to improve breathing
  • Epinephrine to open up congested airways
  • Oxygen
  • Nebulizer treatments

Wheezing treatment options for infants will be slightly different and must only be implemented based on a doctor’s advice.

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