Bronchial breath sounds are different noises your doctor can hear when listening to your breathing. Atypical sounds can indicate an underlying condition.

Bronchial breath sounds, or lung sounds, are noises that air makes against your lungs and windpipe when you breathe in and out. Healthy breathing sounds are typically barely noticeable, while atypical breath sounds can be louder. A doctor can hear them distinctly with a stethoscope.

This article explores the types of bronchial breath sounds, atypical sounds, their causes, symptoms, and diagnosis. The article also discusses treatment.

Bronchial breath sounds occur when air passes through the large airways in your lungs, such as the trachea and bronchi. Breathing in is called the inspiratory phase, and breathing out is called the expiratory phase.

When a doctor listens to your chest with a stethoscope, they can listen to your breathing sounds to help determine whether air is flowing typically through your respiratory system.

There are three main types of breathing sounds: vesicular, bronchial, and tracheal.

  • Vesicular breath sounds are softer and occur when air passes through your smaller airways.
  • Bronchial breath sounds are louder and occur closer to the larger air passages in your trachea.
  • Tracheal breath sounds are loudest and occur closest to the larger air passages in the trachea. They can sound like snoring or wheezing.

There are three main types of bronchial breath sounds: tubular, cavernous, and amphoric.

Tubular sounds

These are high pitched breath sounds. Some triggers or conditions that can produce the sounds include:

  • Consolidation: This happens when air pockets in the lungs fill with fluid.
  • Pleural effusion: This refers to excess fluid in the tissue layers, or pleura, surrounding the lungs.
  • Pulmonary fibrosis: This presents as damage and scarring of the lung tissue, which typically occurs in lung diseases.
  • Atelectasis: This involves someone having a collapsed lung.
  • Mediastinal tumor: This refers to a tumor in the chest between the two lungs. This area is called the mediastinum.

Cavernous sounds

These are low pitched bronchial breath sounds. Conditions that can trigger cavernous or hollow sounds include:

Amphoric sounds

Amphoric sounds involve atypical bronchial breathing, which leads to loud echoing sounds with high pitched overtones. Amphoric sounds indicate damage to the alveoli, the air sacs within the lungs.

The five types of atypical breath sounds are:

  • Crackles: Crackles are discontinuous sounds that occur in short bursts during inhalation and exhalation. They occur due to air passing through fluid or secretions in the small airways of the lungs.
  • Ronchi: Rhonchi are low pitched, snoring-like sounds during exhalation due to airway obstruction or narrowing.
  • Wheezes: Wheezes are high pitched, musical sounds that occur during inhalation and exhalation due to constriction of the airways from inflammation or bronchospasm.
  • Stridor: Stridor is a harsh sound heard during inhalation due to a narrowing of the upper airway from an obstruction, such as fluid in the airways.
  • Rubs: Rubs are grating sounds heard during inhalation and exhalation due to friction between two surfaces in the lung, such as pleural thickening or pleural effusion. They can indicate various conditions, including pneumonia.

Atypical bronchial breath sounds can indicate various underlying conditions. The most common causes are lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. It involves inflammation in the air sacs of the lungs and can cause difficulty breathing and coughing up mucus.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. It usually occurs from a virus and can lead to chest tightness, wheezing, coughing up mucus, and difficulty breathing.

Other causes of atypical bronchial breath sounds include:

Watching out for symptoms involving atypical breath sounds can help you detect them so you can make an appointment to speak with a doctor.

Some of these symptoms include:

When diagnosing atypical bronchial breath sounds, your doctor may typically start with a physical examination, where they listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. This is called auscultation.

They may also ask you about your symptoms. For example, if you have a dry cough, this may indicate an allergy or a pre-asthmatic episode. But if you are coughing up blood, this could indicate more serious conditions, such as a pulmonary embolism or tuberculosis.

If they hear atypical breath sounds, they may order other tests, such as a chest X-ray, a CT scan, and lung function tests. These can help identify the cause and eliminate other serious conditions, such as cancer.

If a doctor determines that you have atypical breath sounds, their primary goal is to use the medical test results to understand the underlying cause. Then, your doctor may prescribe you medication or discuss the next steps.

For instance, if you have an infection, you may need antibiotics. You may need an inhaler if you have asthma or a pre-asthmatic episode. If you have a more serious condition, you may need further testing at a hospital.

You may also need supportive care to help you breathe better until you get treatment. Examples include oxygen therapy, breathing exercises, and chest physiotherapy.

Bronchial breath sounds can help you and your doctor understand whether your lungs are healthy and whether you may have an underlying condition. Different types of sounds have associations with several conditions.

If you have difficulty breathing or experience some of the above symptoms, contact a doctor or have someone else contact them so they can make a diagnosis.