The sounds a person makes while breathing can be a good indicator of their lung health. Doctors classify these sounds according to their intensity and pitch and whether they occur when breathing in or out.
Bronchial breath sounds are loud, harsh breath sounds with a midrange pitch. They can be normal or abnormal, depending on where the sound emanates from and when it occurs in the breathing cycle.
This article describes what bronchial sounds are and the features that classify them as normal or abnormal. We also list different types of abnormal breathing sounds along with their associated causes and treatments.
Bronchial sounds, or “tubular sounds,” are the type of sounds that a person may make while breathing.
A doctor will use a stethoscope to listen for sounds. They typically emanate from the following areas:
- the larynx, or voice box
- the trachea, or windpipe
- the bronchi, which are the major air passages of the lungs that diverge from the windpipe
It is normal for a doctor to hear bronchial sounds over the trachea as a person breathes out. However, bronchial sounds emanating from other areas could signal an
Normal lung tissue, called pulmonary tissue, contains air, which muffles sounds. However, it is possible for the pulmonary tissue to fill with fluid, and fluid conducts sounds more efficiently than air. As such, hearing bronchial sounds within the lungs themselves could signal fluid in the lungs.
Abnormal breathing sounds
- Rales: Rales are slight bubbling, clicking, or rattling sounds in the lungs. The sounds occur as incoming air opens up closed air spaces in the lungs. As such, a person may notice these sounds as they breathe in.
- Rhonchi: Rhonchi are harsh, rattling sounds that resemble snoring. They occur as a result of blockage or inflammation of the large airways.
- Stridor: Stridor is a high pitched sound that occurs as a result of blocked airflow in the windpipe or the back of the throat.
- Wheezes: Wheezes are high pitched sounds that occur due to a narrowing of the airways.
There are three types of bronchial breath sounds:
Tubular breath sounds are a type of high pitched bronchial breath sound. The
- Consolidation: Consolidation is the medical term for when air spaces within the lungs fill with liquid.
- Pleural effusion: This condition occurs due to a buildup of excess fluid in the tissue layers surrounding the lungs. Doctors refer to these layers as pleura.
- Pulmonary fibrosis: The hallmarks of this lung disease are damage to and scarring of the lung tissue.
- Atelectasis: People may refer to this as the collapse of a lung or part of a lung.
- Mediastinal tumor: This tumor develops within the mediastinum, which is the area of the chest that separates the lungs.
Cavernous breath sounds are low pitched bronchial breath sounds. Doctors may hear cavernous breath sounds in a person who has one of the following conditions:
- a lung abscess
- cancerous changes in the lung
- lung damage resulting from the condition bronchiectasis
Amphoric respiration is a type of abnormal bronchial breathing that creates a strong reverberating sound with high pitched overtones. It indicates damage to the air sacs within the lungs, which are called the alveoli.
Various health conditions can cause abnormal lung sounds. These conditions include those below.
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs that causes the alveoli to fill with pus or fluid. The condition can occur as a result of a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.
The symptoms of pneumonia include:
- a cough, which typically produces yellow, green, or bloody mucus
- shortness of breath
- rapid, shallow breathing
- sharp or stabbing chest pain that worsens when breathing deeply or coughing
- nausea and vomiting
- appetite loss
The treatment for pneumonia depends on whether the condition is due to a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia, whereas fungal pneumonia will require treatment with antifungal medication.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. Therefore, a doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to treat cases of viral pneumonia.
Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart does not pump enough blood to all areas of the body.
Some possible warning signs of heart failure include:
- shortness of breath
- persistent wheezing or coughing
- increased heart rate
- swelling in the legs, feet, or ankles
- lack of appetite
Some treatment options for heart failure include:
- lifestyle changes, such as dietary and exercise changes
- devices, such as pacemakers or cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) devices
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COPD is an umbrella term for lung diseases that can restrict airflow in and out of the lungs, causing breathing difficulties.
The symptoms of COPD
- frequent wheezing or coughing
- shortness of breath
- difficulty taking a deep breath
- overproduction of mucus, phlegm, or sputum
Some treatment options for COPD include:
- pulmonary rehabilitation
- supplemental oxygen
In addition, a person can help reduce their symptoms by quitting smoking, if applicable, and avoiding secondhand tobacco smoke and other air pollutants.
Bronchitis is the medical term for inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry oxygenated air into the alveoli of the lungs.
Bronchitis can be either chronic or acute. Chronic bronchitis is one of the diseases that sits under the umbrella of COPD.
The symptoms of bronchitis include:
- a cough, which typically produces mucus
- shortness of breath
- a sore throat
- blocked or runny nose
- aches and pains
Bronchitis is usually due to a viral infection, but it can also develop as a result of a bacterial infection.
The treatment options for bronchitis include:
- acetaminophen to treat fever
- a humidifier to moisten the air
- inhaled medications to alleviate wheezing
- antibiotics to help clear a bacterial infection
A person who experiences concerning breath sounds may wish to ask their doctor the following questions:
- What is causing these sounds?
- Are there treatment options for this condition?
- What actions can I take to help manage the condition?
- Do I require any additional tests to determine the cause of the sounds?
Bronchial breath sounds are loud, harsh breathing sounds with a midrange pitch. Doctors usually associate them sounds with exhalation, as their expiratory length is longer than their inspiratory length.
Bronchial breath sounds are normal as long as they occur over the trachea while the person is breathing out. Sounds that emanate from another location may indicate a problem with the lungs.
There are three types of abnormal bronchial breath sounds: tubular, cavernous, and amphoric. Other abnormal breath sounds include rales, rhonchi, stridor, and wheezing. These can sometimes indicate an underlying respiratory issue that requires attention.
Anyone who is concerned about abnormal breath sounds should see their doctor for a diagnosis and any necessary treatment.