High pitched breath sounds are whistling sounds in the airways caused by air being forced through passageways narrowed by secretions or another mechanical or functional obstruction.

Alternative Names

Sibilant rale, sibilant rhonchi, high pitched rhonchi, high pitched breathing sounds.


When the airways are blocked or narrowed by inflammation, secretions, a foreign object, mass, swelling or spasm, the breath sounds become noisy. If the high pitched breath sounds are a sign of difficulty breathing then immediate medial attention is required.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
  • Choking
  • Burns (inhalation injury)
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Foreign body, swallowed
  • Airway trauma
  • Emphysema
  • Allergies
  • Croup

Diagnosis and Treatments

A complete history and physical by a qualified provider to assess and treat any underlying condition will be needed to determine the cause of high pitched breath sounds. Additional diagnostic studies may include chest x-rays or CT scan. Treatment will depend on the findings.

Call your provider :

When high pitched breath sounds limit your activities of daily living or if there is any difficulty with breathing of sudden or gradual onset.

Call 911:

For any sudden onset of high pitched breath sounds, especially if accompanied by:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nasal flaring
  • Air hunger
  • Gasping for breath
  • Choking
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Sweating profusely
  • Pallor (pale skin)
  • Cyanosis (skin turns blue)
  • Dizziness
  • Coughing up blood