Wheezing when breathing is the sound that comes out of narrowed airways during breathing. Inflammation of the airways, bronchospasm (twitching of the muscles around the bronchial tubes), and hypersensitivity (reaction to triggers such as allergens, irritants, or infections) can all play a role in the development of wheezing. You can find more information below.
What is wheezing when breathing?
Wheezing is an annoying sound during breathing. Most of those who experience this perceive this sound as a whistling sound . It is most clearly heard when you exhale, but in severe cases it can also be heard when you exhale. Wheezing when breathing is caused by narrowed airways or inflammation. Wheezing can be a sign of a serious breathing problem that needs diagnosis and treatment.
Related article: What causes back pain when breathing?
What causes wheezing when breathing?
According to the Mayo Clinic, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the most common causes of wheezing. ( Source ) However, there are many other potential causes as well. Before you can stop your wheezing, your doctor should determine why it is occurring.
Wheezing when breathing can be an indication of:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Heart failure
- Lung cancer
- Sleep apnea
- vocal cord dysfunction
- Pulmoner emboli
Wheezing can also be triggered by short-term illnesses or health emergencies, including:
- Bronchiolitis (a viral respiratory infection)
- lung inflammation
- respiratory tract infection
- side effect of smoking
- Airway obstruction by a foreign body
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency. If you begin to experience symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as dizziness, swelling of the tongue or throat, and difficulty breathing, you should call 911 or seek emergency care.
Who is at risk?
Wheezing when breathing can happen to anyone. However, there are some risk factors that can increase your chances of developing wheezing. For example, genetic diseases such as asthma as a cause of wheezing can also occur in other family members.
Wheezing can also occur when:
- people with allergies
- people with lung cancer
- People exposed to infections due to their environment ( Source )
- Smokers or past smokers
Controlling risk factors such as smoking can help improve wheezing. You should also avoid triggers that cause wheezing, such as pollen and other allergens.
Some risk factors are out of your control, so the goal is to treat your symptoms to improve your overall quality of life.
Wheezing when breathing and possible accompanying symptoms
Symptoms vary according to the causes of wheezing. An audible high-pitched sound (such as a whistling sound) while breathing is the most obvious indicator of wheezing when breathing. Other symptoms that may accompany wheezing include:
- Shortness of breath
- Evening fingers
- chest tightness
- nasal congestion
- loss of voice
- swelling of the lips or tongue
- A bluish appearance around the mouth or nails
When should you see a doctor?
The first time you experience wheezing, you should see your doctor. They will want to check to see if you are wheezing and having trouble breathing, a bluish tint to your skin, or if your mental state has changed. Even if this isn’t your first wheezing, it’s important that they have this information.
If wheezing is accompanied by hives or a swollen face or throat while breathing, you should see a doctor immediately.
Related article: What is hives? What are the causes, symptoms and treatment?
Which doctor to go to for wheezing while breathing?
The first doctor you should see for wheezing is a pulmonologist. If the wheezing is caused by another reason, the pulmonologist will refer you to a relevant doctor. For example, if the main cause is urticaria, they will refer you to a dermatologist.
How to diagnose the causes of wheezing when breathing?
Your doctor will begin the exam by asking you how long and how often you have been wheezing. He or she will ask if you are wheezing all the time or with physical exertion, such as when exercising.
Other questions the doctor should know include:
- Do your wheezes improve after exposure to dust or other allergens?
- Does it happen both during the day and at night?
- Does rest help wheezing?
- Is it wheezing when breathing in, out or both?
- Do you smoke?
- Do certain foods seem to cause wheezing?
Your doctor will also do a physical exam to listen to your breathing and lung sounds. A chest X-ray, lung function tests, and blood tests may also be needed to check your oxygen levels.
Related article: All about X-ray
If the patient is a child, the doctor may want to check to make sure he or she has not swallowed or inhaled a small object, such as a toy or coin, that could cause wheezing.
How to get rid of wheezing when breathing?
Treatment for wheezing has two purposes:
- controlling inflammation in your airways
- Opening your airways with fast-acting drugs
Prescription anti-inflammatory medications can reduce inflammation and excess mucus in your airways. They typically come in inhaler form, but are also available as long-acting tablets. Syrups are used for young children.
Bronchodilators are a fast-acting medicine and are often used to treat wheezing and relieve coughing. They work by relaxing the smooth muscles surrounding your airways.
If the wheezing is related to a long-term illness such as asthma or COPD, your doctor may recommend both anti-inflammatory and fast-acting medications.
Remember, your doctor will decide which medicine to take and how.
What is good for wheezing while breathing?
Home remedies can help improve wheezing in some people. For example, keeping your home warm and humid can open up your airways and help you breathe easier.
Sitting in a hot, steamy bath can sometimes help. Dry and cold climates can worsen wheezing, especially when exercising outdoors.
Complementary medications such as herbs and supplements can also help control wheezing. It is important to talk to your doctor before you start using alternative medicines.
The following alternative medicines may help relieve asthma-related wheezing:
- antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E
- Ginkgo biloba
What are the possible complications?
Because wheezing can be caused by serious underlying conditions, it’s important to tell the doctor when wheezing first starts. If you avoid the doctor or don’t follow your treatment plan, the wheezing can get worse and cause other complications, such as shortness of breath or altered mental status.
How to prevent wheezing when breathing?
In some chronic diseases such as asthma, wheezing cannot be prevented without medical intervention. However, taking your prescription medications along with recommended home remedies may improve your symptoms but you should consult your doctor for this.
Even if you think your symptoms have improved, you should not stop taking your medication without your doctor’s permission. This can lead to dangerous relapses.
Long-term outlook for wheezing
The outlook for people who experience wheezing when breathing depends on the exact cause of their symptoms. Chronic asthma and COPD often require long-term treatment. However, the wheezing associated with short-term illness usually goes away as you recover.
If wheezing recurs or worsens, you should tell your doctor. This usually means you need a more aggressive treatment plan to avoid complications.