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Wheezing: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Wheezing: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Wheezing causes a sharp whistling sound caused due to partial obstructions in one or more airways of the lungs. Narrowing down of the lung airways and other factors for blockages like mucus cause labored breathing.

This creates a wheezing sound while inhaling and exhaling. The sound is usually more common while breathing out. In medical conditions that cause limited airflow, a wheezing sound is usually not prominent. There are various minor to severe medical conditions that may manifest themselves through this symptom.

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that originates while inhaling and exhaling. This occurs due to inflammation of the airways of lungs, and other factors that cause blockages of the airways.

Symptoms

Wheezing is a symptom which can appear in many conditions. Symptoms that often accompany it based on the underlying condition are as follows:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Loss of voice
  • Stuffy nose
  • Inflammation of the lips or tongue
  • A bluish tinge around the mouth and/or nails

Wheezing Causes

There are various medical conditions and lifestyle disorders that may be the underlying causes of wheezing. Let’s take a look at the most common wheezing causes:

Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways of the respiratory system narrows down these passageways. Mucus may further block the airways, leading to breathing difficulties and aggravating the medical condition. This, in turn, aggravates wheezing as well.

Allergies

Seasonal allergies due to foreign allergens like dust, pollen, pet dander, mites, insect stings, etc. may manifest through wheezing amongst other symptoms.

Anaphylaxis

This is a severe allergic reaction, generally caused due to certain medications and insect bite.

Bronchiectasis

A chronic lung disease in which mucus does not drain out as expected due to widening of bronchial tubes.

Cystic fibrosis

This health condition causes thickening of the mucus, causing lung function impairment.

Bronchiolitis

Another type of infection of the small airways in the lungs that leads to breathlessness and wheezing.

Respiratory syncytial virus

This is one of the factors behind bronchiolitis.

Pneumonia

Here, the air sacs swell up and get filled with pus and other fluids, making breathing difficult.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Certain digestive fluids may push back up into the esophagus due to digestive disorders. These fluids may cause wheezing if there is an aspiration of gastric contents in the airways.

Heart diseases

The sharp sound is often one of the most common symptoms of cardiovascular disorders like heart blockages, stroke, etc.

Obstructive sleep apnea

In this health condition, breathing gets disrupted at times during the night, causing shortness of breath and wheezing.

Vocal cord dysfunction

This disorder is associated with the movement of vocal cords, wheezing being one of its prominent symptoms.

Other causes:

  • Smoking (primary and secondhand smoking)
  • Lung cancer
  • Airway obstruction due to a large foreign object in the throat

Diagnosis

To diagnose the underlying cause of wheezing involves a combination of physical examination and investigation of medical conditions by medical tests. Let’s take a close look at the process:

Physical examination: Based on the symptoms that you are facing other than wheezing, the doctor is likely to physically examine you thoroughly. In certain cases, wheezing may not clearly manifest itself. Using a stethoscope to check the pulse, heartbeats, and presence of chest congestion usually reveals sharp breathing sounds.

Investigation of medical conditions: Your doctor will enquire about your personal and family history of medical conditions. This will enable him/her to evaluate whether wheezing might be an underlying cause of any of these health conditions. It will help the doctor eliminate medical conditions that could have otherwise been a possible cause of the whistling sound while breathing.

Discuss with your doctor about the medications that you might be taking currently or may have taken in the recent past. There are certain drugs like aspirin and corticosteroids that are known to interact adversely and cause symptoms like wheezing. These medications include prescription drugs, non-prescription or OTC (over-the-counter) drugs, vitamins, supplements, and herbals. Do not miss carrying the documents for your medical history as the doctor is likely to check them for previous or existing medical conditions and medications.

Medical tests: Imaging tests like X-ray and CT (computer tomography) scans of the chest may be advised. This will enable the doctor to monitor the prevalence of blockages and other abnormalities in the chest that may cause the whistling sound.

Treatment

As discussed earlier in the article, there are an array of medical conditions that may manifest through wheezing. The treatment for this condition is determined by the medical condition causing it, its severity, etc. Below are the possible treatment options for such medical conditions.

  • An inhaler may be advised to control inflammation of the airways and ensure chest decongestion.
  • A bronchodilator medication may be advised for preventing disruptions in breathing.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids may be recommended.
  • An antibiotic may be advised to treat bacterial infections.
  • A cool-mist humidifier or a steam vaporiser may open up the congestion in the lung airways.

Home Remedies

Treating the underlying condition is a must for treating the whistling sound. The following are some easy home remedies that can relieve the condition:

Steam inhalation: Steam unclogs the blocked airways and eases swellings.

Drink something warm: This relieves discomfort, irritation, and pain in the airways. It also loosens and drains out mucus of a sticky and thick consistency.

Quit smoking: Avoid smoking and also make sure that you stay away from passive smoking.

Do breathing exercises: Keep your lungs clogged and active with a few minutes of breathing exercises every day.

Load up on antioxidants: Have a daily diet that is rich in vitamin C and E to treat the whistling sound caused due to asthma.

Herbs: Herbs like ginkgo biloba are recognised for relieving asthma-induced wheezing.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Sep 22, 2021
Fact Checked by Bianchi Mendoza, R.N.