Several conditions can lead to wheezing. People can take steps to help stop wheezing, such as taking medications according to a doctor’s instructions, drinking hot beverages, and quitting smoking, if applicable.

Wheezing is the abnormal whistling sound that can develop when the airways become partially narrowed. Doctors may describe the sound as a high pitched whistle or rattle.

Typically, air moves in and out of a person’s airways and lungs unobstructed. However, if the airways become narrowed, wheezing may develop. The airways may narrow for a number of reasons, including inflammation, blockages, illness, or irritation.

Wheezing can occur when someone breathes in (inhalation) or out (exhalation). It may indicate an underlying health condition.

This article examines the causes of wheezing, six suggestions to help stop wheezing, and when to speak with a healthcare professional.

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Any condition that can lead to partial obstruction or narrowing of a person’s airways can cause wheezing. Some of these health conditions may include:

Other causes of wheezing may include smoking, having a foreign object in the airways, and taking certain medications.

A person can try some methods to help relieve wheezing at home. As wheezing may occur due to a range of underlying causes, a person should consider speaking with a doctor if they experience wheezing that does not go away.

Some causes of wheezing, such as asthma and COPD, may require prescription medication. Wheezing may indicate that an underlying condition is causing inflammation or narrowing of the airways.

According to the Allergy and Asthma Network, taking medications for any respiratory conditions as a doctor prescribes may help ease wheezing and prevent breathing issues from worsening. For example, bronchodilators, such as albuterol, relax the muscles surrounding the airways and open them up. As the airways open, wheezing usually eases.

Smoking can increase a person’s risk of developing certain diseases that cause wheezing, such as COPD and lung cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that, in the United States, more than 16 million people have a disease related to smoking.

Smoking can also worsen symptoms in people with diseases that affect the lungs. For example, according to the American Lung Association (ALA), smoking can worsen asthma symptoms. Wheezing is a common symptom of asthma. People who smoke can work with their doctor to develop an effective plan to quit smoking.

Additionally, the ALA advises that people with conditions such as asthma avoid secondhand smoke and speak with their loved ones about not smoking or vaping around them.

Drinking a hot beverage may help loosen up any mucus in the chest and ease wheezing. According to the Allergy and Asthma Network, some older research indicates that hot drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee, may have a slight bronchodilating effect. This suggests that caffeine may help open up the airways.

People should note that while a caffeinated drink may help with wheezing, it should not replace a prescribed medication for wheezing. A person should also speak with a doctor to make sure it is safe to consume caffeine if they are taking any medications.

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), steam inhalation may help loosen mucus in the chest in a similar way to drinking a warm beverage. This may help ease any wheezing.

However, people should use steam inhalation with caution, depending on the cause of wheezing. Everyone’s triggers for worsening symptoms differ. For example, increased humidity as a result of steam may make asthma symptoms worse in some individuals.

Some conditions, such as allergies and asthma, may become worse after exposure to an allergen, which is something that triggers a person’s symptoms to appear or worsen. Reducing exposure to allergens and lung irritants can be helpful if someone wheezes due to allergies, COPD, or asthma.

Common triggers for respiratory conditions may include:

  • smoke inhalation
  • respiratory infections
  • certain cleaning products and fragrances
  • air pollution
  • certain weather conditions
  • exercise

Pursed-lip breathing is a technique to help slow and improve breathing. An individual inhales through their nose and exhales for twice as long through pursed lips. This prolonged exhalation helps remove trapped air from the lungs. The pursing creates a small amount of back pressure in the lungs, keeping the airways open.

The technique may help ease shortness of breath, which in turn may decrease wheezing.

Many conditions can lead to wheezing. Therefore, it is best to speak with a doctor who can provide an accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause of the wheezing.

If a person develops any of the following symptoms, someone should call 911 immediately:

  • sudden wheezing
  • wheezing after experiencing a bug bite or taking medication, which may indicate a severe allergic reaction
  • wheezing with chest pain
  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing along with severe shortness of breath or bluish skin or lips
  • wheezing after choking on food or a small object

Wheezing is the abnormal high pitched whistling sound that can develop when the airways become inflamed and narrow. Several conditions can cause wheezing, including allergies, asthma, and COPD.

There are many ways to manage wheezing at home, such as drinking a hot beverage, doing pursed-lip breathing, and avoiding smoking. People should also ensure that they take all prescribed medication as directed by a healthcare professional.

Wheezing may indicate a problem with the respiratory system. Therefore, a person should speak with a doctor when wheezing develops for the first time to determine any underlying causes.