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Learn about your wheezing, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your wheezing from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Wheezing Checker

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Your Wheezing May Also be Known as:
Laboured breathing
Loud breathing
Noisy breathing
Weezing
Wheeze
Wheezy

Wheezing Symptoms

Wheezing is often associated with difficult or painful breathing. Breathing is supposed to be performed slowly, deeply, effortlessly, and mindlessly. When someone has a wheeze, it represents lungs that are having difficulty getting all of the air they need to provide the body enough oxygen or lungs that are struggling to exhale the carbon dioxide we produce as waste.

Wheezing is a high-pitched whine or squeaky sound that comes from deep within your lungs when you inhale and/or exhale. It is caused by the tightening or restriction of the passages that bring air to the base of your lungs. When these passageways constrict or become blocked, air has difficulty passing through and the resultant vibrations cause the sound you hear as a wheeze. Wheezing can be associated with mild respiratory infections or allergies but can also be indicative of more severe acute or chronic lung diseases. Thus, while a slight wheeze while you have a cold can be ignored, a severe or chronic wheeze should prompt you to see a doctor – especially if you are a smoker or have known lung disease.

Wheezing may be associated with these common symptoms:

Wheezing Causes Overview

Most causes of wheezing are diseases of the airways and lungs, or diseases of other organs that can lead to lung damage.

Pulmonary wheezing causes:

  • Inflammation: Inflammation of the airways, such as that caused by asthma and other autoimmune conditions, can lead to wheezing symptoms.
  • Infection: Infection with viruses or bacteria can cause inflammation of the airways, resulting in a wheeze. Examples include pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis.
  • Chronic Lung Disease: Diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease, formally known as emphysema) can lead to airway obstruction and wheezing symptoms.
  • Congenital: Certain congenital lung diseases may lead to mucus build-up or airway malformation that can cause wheezing symptoms. Examples include cystic fibrosis.

Environmental wheezing causes:

  • Allergy : Severe allergic reactions can lead to airway tightening and wheezing.
  • Irritants: Exposure to certain chemicals and airborne irritants can cause a wheezing cough.

Other wheezing causes:

  • Structural: Scarring or malformation of the airway can lead to tightening and wheeze.
  • Heart Disease: Patients with heart failure may experience episodic shortness of breath and wheezing due to excessive fluid on the lungs (pulmonary edema).
  • Masses: Masses such as goiters, large tonsils, and certain cancers can impinge on the airways leading to wheezing symptoms.

Top 9 Wheezing Causes

  1. 1.Asthma Attack

    An asthma attack is the sudden worsening of asthma caused by a trigger (e.g., exercise or cold air) or infection.

    Most importantly, take your asthma medication for these acute attacks. You should visit your primary care physician today for management of your attack. He/she may change your medication regiment and give you a course of steroids.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, shortness of breath at rest, tight, heavy, squeezing chest pain, wheezing, cough with dry or watery sputum
    Symptoms that always occur with asthma attack:
    shortness of breath
    Symptoms that never occur with asthma attack:
    blue skin
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  2. 2.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own by resting, drinking fluids and taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to alleviate fever and discomfort. If the condition lasts longer than a few weeks, or if your symptoms are worsening, you may want to see a doctor who may prescribe an inhaler or pursue other treatment options.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Right Heart Failure (Cor Pulmonale)

    Cor pulmonale is known as right heart failure and is often a long-term consequence of high blood pressure or COPD.

    You should visit the emergency room. It is likely a physical exam will be performed as well as blood tests.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, chest pain, wheezing, cough with dry or watery sputum, shortness of breath on exertion
    Symptoms that never occur with right heart failure (cor pulmonale):
    severe chest pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  4. 4.Severe Asthma Attack

    A severe asthma attack makes it incredibly hard to breathe and is a medical emergency. If possible, use a rescue inhaler ASAP.

    This is a serious issue so proceed to the closest emergency room for treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    being severely ill, wheezing, shortness of breath at rest, cough with dry or watery sputum, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with severe asthma attack:
    shortness of breath at rest, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Wheezing Checker

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  5. 5.Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (Copd) Exacerbation

    A COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) exacerbation is a worsening of your COPD, causing you to struggle for breathe. This is often caused by an infection in the lungs.

    A COPD exacerbation requires urgent care. If you are having trouble breathing, go to the ER immediately. For less urgent cases, seeing the doctor the next day is very advised.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shortness of breath, wheezing, productive cough, worsening cough, trouble sleeping
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  6. 6.Adult - Onset Asthma

    Asthma in adults is an under-diagnosed reason for a chronic cough. In general, asthma is caused by hyperactive inflammation of the lung's airways. This results in episodic dyspnea, coughing and wheezing which is triggered by for example exercise, cold air, pollen or dust.

    You should visit your primary care physician to discuss the diagnosis of adult-onset asthma, which requires a breathing test for confirmation. Upon diagnosis, your doctor will prescribe a treatment plan depending on your severity.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, wheezing, dry cough, shortness of breath at rest, shortness of breath on exertion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Viral Pneumonia

    Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type, which is usually acquired in public areas such as at work, school, or grocery store.

    You should see a care provider to be treated and for evaluation of severity of your symptoms. Viral pneumonia is NOT treated with antibiotics, and you may find over-the-counter medications for pain and fever to be helpful.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Symptoms that never occur with viral pneumonia:
    unexplained bruising
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Bacterial Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is the infection of the lungs with bacteria (as opposed to a fungus or a virus).

    You should go see a doctor within the next day since this diagnosis requires a chest X-ray in addition to a doctor's assessment. Treatment with antibiotics is important to keeping the infection under control, which can become dangerous if it spreads or worsens within the lungs.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia:
    cough
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  9. 9.Chronic Allergies

    Allergies are an overreaction by the immune system to something that does not bother most other people. Many people who have allergies are sensitive to pollen, but other things such as dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold can also cause a reaction.

    Allergies are a benign (but annoying!) condition, that can cause symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Treat by avoiding what you're allergic to, or with an over-the-counter medication such as loratidine (Claritin), or diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, runny nose, cough with dry or watery sputum
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic allergies:
    fever, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Wheezing Treatments and Relief

If your wheezing is associated with difficulty breathing, you should medical attention right away. If you chronically have a wheeze, you should consider seeing a physician to figure out the root cause. This is especially true if you smoke cigarettes.

At-home wheezing treatments:

  • Fresh air: Getting a breath of cool fresh air can help if your wheezing was triggered by an irritant.
  • Inhaler: If you are prescribed an inhaler, you may use your inhaler to decrease wheezing.
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) can help in the case of an allergic reaction.

Professional wheezing treatments:

  • Imaging and Blood Tests: Chest x-rays and blood work can help elucidate the cause of wheezing.
  • Oxygen: If you are not getting enough oxygen to your blood, you will be given supplemental oxygen to breathe.
  • Breathing Medication: Medical professionals can provide a number of medications to decrease airway constriction and wheezing.
  • Antibiotics: If your wheezing was triggered by a bacterial infection, you will be given medication to help fight the infection.
  • Surgery: Very rarely, surgery may be recommended to help with the symptoms of chronic lung disease or obstructing lesions.

You should seek help without delay if you have:

FAQs About Wheezing

Here are some frequently asked questions about wheezing.

Can stress and anxiety cause wheezing?

No, generally, stress and anxiety by themselves do not cause wheezing. Asthma, however, can cause wheezing and asthma can be triggered by stress. Other diseases that may be aggravated by stress can cause wheezing as well, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), often caused by smoking.

Can stress trigger an asthma attack?

Yes, stress can trigger an asthma attack. However, if one has a well-developed asthma plan and has been taking his or her medications, the chance of experiencing an asthma attack is significantly decreased.

Why am I wheezing and coughing at night?

Wheezing and coughing at night (paroxsmal nocturnal dsypnea) can be a sign of fluid backup toward the lungs. If this condition is significantly affecting your sleep, it can be dangerous and a sign of heart failure. You should visit a medical professional for evaluation. A less serious but important cause is nocturnal asthma.

Why do I wheeze more in cold weather?

Cold weather can cause the blockage of the beta adrenergic system. Essentially, the cold weather signals your throat to constrict, making it more difficult to breathe. This is common, and can be treated first and foremost by taking precautions such as dressing warmly or even wearing a scarf over your nose and mouth so that the air you breathe is warmed. Very mild forms of asthma may only manifest when irritated, such as by smoke or cold air.

Can wheezing be caused by being overweight?

Yes, wheezing can be caused by being overweight. The extra body mass from being overweight can be difficult to move as the rib cage expands to breathe. Further, any extra body mass around the throat or neck can make for a more narrow opening to the breathing tube (pharynx), and this can cause difficulty breathing and an increase in wheezing.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Wheezing

  • Q.How long has your wheezing been going on?
  • Q.How severe is your wheezing?
  • Q.Is your cough constant or come-and-go?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our wheezing symptom checker.

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Wheezing Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced wheezing have also experienced:

    • 24% Cough
    • 5% Dry Cough
    • 5% Shortness of Breath
  • People who have experienced wheezing had symptoms persist for:

    • 39% Less Than a Week
    • 17% Less Than a Day
    • 14% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced wheezing were most often matched with:

    • 29% Bronchitis
    • 3% Asthma Attack
    • 2% Right Heart Failure (Cor Pulmonale)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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    Wheezing Checker

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