Read below about 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.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Loud breathing

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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 [11].

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 [1].

Pulmonary wheezing causes:

  • Inflammation: Inflammation of the airways, such as that caused by asthma and other autoimmune conditions, can lead to wheezing symptoms [2].
  • Infection: Infection with viruses or bacteria can cause inflammation of the airways, resulting in a wheeze. Examples include pneumonia, bronchitis and bronchiolitis [3].
  • Chronic Lung Disease: Diseases such as COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease, formally known as emphysema) can lead to airway obstruction and wheezing symptoms [4].
  • Congenital: Certain congenital lung diseases may lead to mucus build-up or airway malformation that can cause wheezing symptoms. Examples include cystic fibrosis [5].

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) [6].
  • Masses: Masses such as goiters [7], large tonsils, and certain cancers can impinge on the airways leading to wheezing symptoms.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Wheezing

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced wheezing. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Bacterial Pneumonia

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

    1-3 weeks

    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
  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.

    Symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks.

    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.Bronchiectasis

    Bronchiectasis is destruction and widening of the large airways. Mucus builds up in these airways and can get infected, causing a pneumonia.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, runny nose, mucous dripping in the back of the throat
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Condition Causing Abnormal, High - Pitched Breathing

    High-pitched inhaling is called stridor, and requires urgent referral to the ER to see why it's happening

    MISSING

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    high-pitched breathing, severe pelvis pain, arm weakness, loss of vision, chest pain
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

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  5. 5.Chronic 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.

    Likely a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, productive cough, wheezing, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (Copd)

    COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a chronic condition of the lungs and the airways in the lungs. Damage has occured due to long-term exposure to substances that irritate and damage the lungs, such as cigarette smoke or air pollution. This damage can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance and cough. A common cold or other types of infection can cause symptoms to worden acutely, this is called an exacerbation.

    Often a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough and dyspnea related to smoking, cough, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd):
    cough and dyspnea related to smoking
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (copd):
    rectal bleeding
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Asthma Attack

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

    Within minutes of treatment.

    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
  8. 8.Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis

    The lungs can become inflamed from breathing in foreign substances, such as molds, dusts, chemicals or animals - mostly birds. Sometimes this inflammation is worsened by an allergic reaction to these substances.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    In-person visit

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 [12].

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:

  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Change in voice pitch
  • Fever
  • Lightheadedness
  • Face swelling
  • Hives
  • Discoloration of fingertips

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 [8]. 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) [9] 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 overweigh [10]. 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.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

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

Wheezing Quiz

Wheezing Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced wheezing have also experienced:

    • 23% Cough
    • 5% Productive Cough
    • 5% Dry Cough
  • People who have experienced wheezing had symptoms persist for:

    • 35% Less Than a Week
    • 18% Over a Month
    • 16% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced wheezing were most often matched with:

    • 50% Bacterial Pneumonia
    • 40% Bronchiectasis
    • 10% Bronchitis
  • 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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References

  1. Noah L,https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/lung-and-airway-disorders/symptoms-of-lung-disorders/wheezing
  2. Asthma & Wheezing in the First Years of Life. National Asthma Council Australia. Published October 2017. National Asthma Council Australia Link.
  3. Moore K, Sullivan D. What Causes Wheezing? Healthline. Published April 30, 2018. Healthline Link.
  4. Chronic Lung Disease. John Muir Health. John Muir Health Link.
  5. About Cystic Fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. CFF Link.
  6. Pulmonary Edema. Wikipedia. Wikipedia Link.
  7. Goiter. American Thyroid Association. ATA Link.
  8. Stress and Anxiety. Asthma UK. Published May 2016. AsthmaUK Link.
  9. Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnoea. Wikipedia. Updated Sept, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  10. Schachter LM, Salome CM, Peat JK, Woolcock AJ. Obesity is a Risk for Asthma and Wheeze But Not Airway Hyperresponsiveness. Thorax. 2001;56:4-8. BMJ Link.
  11. Wheezing. US National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated August 2018. Medlineplus Link.
  12. Lechtzin N. Wheezing. Merck Manual. Published May 2018. Merck Manual Link.