Vesicular breath sounds are a type of breath sound. They are often soft, low-pitched sounds. Having vesicular breath sounds is normal, but changes in those sounds can be a sign of a lung condition.

As an individual inhales and exhales, the air rushing to and from the lungs creates different sounds. When a doctor listens to an individual’s lungs, the sounds they hear can indicate if someone has an infection, inflammation, or fluid in or around the lungs.

Someone with a health condition that affects the lungs, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, may have altered vesicular breath sounds.

This article explores vesicular breath sounds and the different health conditions that can impact them.

A doctor listening for vesicular breath sounds in an older man by using a stethoscope.Share on Pinterest
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Vesicular breath sounds are a type of lung sound that doctors can hear over most areas of the chest. They occur when air rushes in and out of the lungs during breathing.

Normally, vesicular breath sounds are:

  • soft
  • low-pitched
  • rustling in quality
  • louder and more high-pitched when inhaling in comparison to exhaling
  • continuous, with no pause between inhalation and the early part of exhalation

Vesicular sounds are one of several types of normal breath sounds. The other types include normal tracheal sounds, which occur in the windpipe, and bronchial breath sounds, which are audible over the breastbone.

Vesicular breath sounds are normal when they are audible over most of both lungs. People can hear them most easily below the second rib at the base of the lungs. The sounds are loudest in this area because this is where there are large masses of pulmonary tissue.

The vesicular breath sounds are louder and longer in the right lung than in the left lung, and less loud in areas where there is less pulmonary tissue, such as at the very top and bottom of the lungs.

While vesicular breath sounds occur in most areas of the chest, bronchial sounds are loudest over the sternum, or breastbone. They come from the large air passages in the lungs.

Compared to vesicular breath sounds, bronchial breath sounds:

  • have a higher frequency
  • are loud and harsh
  • occur mainly during exhalation, rather than inhalation
  • have a small pause between inhalation and exhalation

Doctors also subdivide bronchial breath sounds into tubular, cavernous, and amphoric breath sounds, whereas vesicular breath sounds have only one type.

To listen for breath sounds:

  1. Move into a quiet room and have the person sit down. If the person cannot sit, lie them on their side.
  2. Ask them to remove their top.
  3. Warm up a stethoscope by rubbing it between the hands and then placing over the apex of the lungs.
  4. Ask the person to take deep breaths through an open mouth and listen for the sounds. Stay in this position for one inhalation and one exhalation.
  5. Repeat step four, moving the stethoscope downwards to listen for sounds at different points in the lungs.
  6. Move onto the person’s back. If they are lying down, roll them onto the other side. Again, listen for one full breath in each position, moving the stethoscope from the top of the chest and working down.

It is important to hear at least one complete breath cycle at each site. Listen for the quality and intensity of the breath sounds, as well as for the presence of abnormal sounds, or discrepancies between the sounds on either side of the chest.

Vesicular breath sounds can vary in intensity between healthy individuals. This is not necessarily an indication that something is wrong. However, certain breath sounds are abnormal. These additional noises are known as adventitious breath sounds.

Some types of adventitious breath sounds include:

  • wheezing
  • bubbling
  • squeaking
  • rales, which are small crackling, clicking, or rattling sounds
  • pleural rub, which sounds creaky
  • stridor, which is a noisy, high-pitched sound
  • rhonchi, which sounds like snoring

Abnormal or adventitious breath sounds can be a sign of an underlying condition. Below are some conditions that can cause these sounds:


Asthma is a chronic condition that causes airways to become inflamed and narrowed. Some asthma symptoms include:

  • chest tightness
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing

People with asthma may have normal vesicular breath sounds but with prolonged expiration, or they may have audible wheezes in various places around the chest.


Bronchitis occurs when the lungs’ airways swell and produce mucus in the lungs. It usually develops due to a viral infection. Some bronchitis symptoms include:

Those with bronchitis may wheeze or have rhonchi that improves with coughing. It is essential to listen for sounds characteristic of pneumonia, since bronchitis can sometimes develop into pneumonia.


Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs, which causes the air sacs found in the lungs to fill up with pus or fluid. A viral, bacterial, or fungal infection can cause pneumonia.

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • shortness of breath
  • cough (typically with mucus)
  • sharp chest pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

Lungs affected by pneumonia may make bubbling, crackling, and rumbling sounds during inhalation.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD refers to a group of diseases that cause breathing-related problems due to airflow blockages. COPD symptoms include:

  • frequent wheezing or coughing
  • excess mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty taking deep breaths

Those with COPD often have audible wheezes or longer periods of exhalation with decreased breath sounds.

Heart failure

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart does not pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Some warning signs of heart failure include:

  • persistent wheezing or coughing
  • swelling
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • lack of appetite
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • increased heart rate

If a person believes they have abnormal breathing sounds or is experiencing frequent wheezing, they should speak with a doctor. A doctor can diagnose the cause and determine what to do next.

Seek immediate medical attention if a person develops:

  • blue or white discoloration around the lips or in the fingers and toes
  • severe shortness or breath or difficulty breathing
  • trouble staying awake or loss of consciousness

Vesicular breath sounds are soft, low-pitched sounds that doctors can hear throughout the lungs, primarily when a person breathes in. They are normal, but some abnormal sounds may occur if a person has an illness or chronic condition. Examples of abnormal sounds include crackles, wheezes, and clicking.

People can listen for vesicular breath sounds by using a stethoscope in a quiet room. Conditions such as asthma, COPD, and chest infections can cause changes to how a person’s breathing sounds internally.