Wheezing can occur with asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory disorders that cause tightening in the throat. Doctors may prescribe medications for wheezing, like an asthma inhaler. People may also try home remedies for wheezing.
This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments for wheezing.
Wheezing happens when blockages or inflammation of a person’s airways makes their breathing sound like whistling or squeaking.
If a person experiences a wheezing sound when breathing out, it typically means they are only exhaling at
When the airways narrow due to irritation, illness, or a blockage, air moving through them can make a squeaking sound.
Some people experience other symptoms as well, including discomfort when breathing or a choking sensation.
- Asthma: Asthma is a chronic respiratory disorder that causes the airways to narrow and inflame.
- Allergies: Seasonal and food allergies can cause respiratory irritation, congestion, and difficulty breathing.
- Physical blockage: Food or other objects can block a person’s windpipe. It is usually a medical emergency.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): COPD is a group of inflammatory diseases, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
- Bronchitis: Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes. It is often due to a viral or bacterial infection.
- Cold and flu: Infections that cause the common cold or flu can cause inflammation and breathing problems.
- Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs.
- Heart disease: Heart disease can cause breathing problems, coughing, and fluid in the lungs.
Causes in babies and children
Newborns breathe only through the nose, so when they experience congestion or are in the wrong position, they may make a wheezing or squeaking sound.
Wheezing in children is common. Around 1 in 3 children will experience at least one acute wheezing episode before 3 years of age. As long as they are breathing at a normal rate and the chest is not caving in, this is nothing to worry about.
However, lower respiratory infections, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia are also causes of wheezing in babies and children. Wheezing may also result from other conditions, such as asthma, physical blockages, and allergies.
It is often difficult to diagnose the cause of wheezing based on symptoms alone, and a person should see their doctor if wheezing is causing concern.
If a person experiences any of the following, they should go to the emergency room:
- struggles with their breathing
- wheezing that comes on suddenly
- other symptoms, such as chest pain
- signs of anaphylaxis
A person who experiences wheezing but is otherwise able to breathe may wish to wait a few days before seeing a doctor. If the wheezing worsens, they should see a doctor within a day.
Wheezing is a symptom rather than a condition. To determine the cause of a person’s wheezing, a doctor will assess current symptoms and review the patient’s medical history. They will also perform a thorough physical examination.
Determining the frequency and severity of the wheezing, whether it is a new or recurring problem, and if there are any associated symptoms are of great importance in a diagnosis.
Doctors may order various tests to determine the cause of wheezing. These may include,
Doctors will treat the underlying cause of wheezing to reduce symptoms.
in the short term, bronchodilators can reduce the severity of attacks. Bronchodilators are medications that help relax the lungs and prevent the airways from narrowing. They can help with wheezing caused by COPD and asthma.
In the case of wheezing from allergies, allergen medications such as antihistamines, and immunotherapy can help. Immunotherapy is a process of retraining the immune system not to react to allergens. The most common form of immunotherapy is allergy shots.
A wide variety of medications can treat wheezing due to an underlying illness. For instance, a person who experiences wheezing due to a severe allergic reaction may require epinephrine or corticosteroids.
Home remedies for wheezing
The following home treatments for wheezing aim to open up the airways, reduce the irritants or pollution that a person breathes in, or treat the underlying causes.
If a person has asthma or another medical condition that causes wheezing, they should speak to their doctor and use the medications prescribed, such as an asthma inhaler.
Effective home remedies for wheezing include:
- Steam inhalation: Inhaling warm, moisture-rich air can be very effective for clearing the sinuses and opening the airways.
- Hot drinks: Warm and hot drinks can help to loosen up the airways and relieve congestion.
- Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises may help with COPD, bronchitis, allergies, and other common causes of wheezing.
- Humidifiers: During the dry winter months, wheezing often gets worse. A humidifier in the bedroom can help loosen congestion and reduce the severity of wheezing.
- Air filters: A home air filter can reduce the presence of irritants that may trigger wheezing and breathing trouble.
- Identifying and removing triggers: Chronic illnesses such as asthma and allergies may worsen in response to certain triggers, such as stress or allergens. Controlling these triggers as much as possible can help.
The long-term outlook for wheezing ultimately depends on its cause. Even when wheezing is due to a chronic illness, a person can often manage it with medication and home treatments.
Ongoing medical care remains important, however, and people whose symptoms do not improve should consult a doctor. Consider tracking symptoms to identify any underlying triggers for symptoms.
If wheezing is causing concern, it is essential to remain calm, as panicking can worsen wheezing. Keep breathing slow and regular, and seek medical treatment when appropriate.
Medications can improve symptoms even when wheezing is due to a serious medical condition.
Wheezing is a high-pitched, whistling sound that occurs when a person breathes in or out. It is the result of a blockage in the person’s airways.
This may occur due to the presence of foreign objects or inflammation of internal tissue. Wheezing is a common symptom of asthma but has many other causes.