What causes wheezing?
Wheezing refers to a high-pitched whistling sound that happens when you breathe in or out. It’s caused by tightening of your airways.
Your airways can tighten due to:
- certain medications
- gastroesophageal reflux disease
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- anything that causes swelling or inflammation in your airways
If you’re not sure what’s causing your wheezing, make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any conditions that need immediate treatment. In addition to any prescription treatments and medication your doctor recommends, there are several home remedies that may help you wheeze less.
1. Drink warm liquids
If your wheezing symptoms are caused by mucous in your wind pipe, some warm liquids might help. Drinking herbal tea or even some warm water can help break up any stubborn mucus. Staying hydrated is important with any type of congestion.
2. Inhale moist air
Inhaling moist air or steam works similarly to drinking warm liquids. It can help loosen up congestion and mucus in your airways, making it easier to breath. Take a hot, steamy shower with the door closed or use a humidifier at home. You can also try spending some time in a steam room. Just make sure you avoid the dry, hot air of a sauna.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables
Some chronic respiratory conditions can lead to symptoms like wheezing. Researchers are finding out more and more about the role that nutrition plays in controlling these symptoms. A 2015 review of existing research found that vitamin C may have a protective effect on the respiratory system. However, the studies reviewed also suggest that eating foods high in vitamin C appear more effective than taking a vitamin C supplement.
Try adding some of the following foods to your diet to reap the potential benefits of vitamin C:
- bell peppers
This same review also noted a possible link between improved respiratory health and diets high in vitamins D and E. You can find vitamin D in:
- dairy products
- red meat
- oily fish, such as swordfish or salmon
- egg yolks
You can find vitamin E in:
- sunflower seeds
- peanut butter
A study published in 2013 also suggests that fresh ginger contains compounds that may help fight off certain viruses of the respiratory system. Try making your own fresh ginger tea to combine the benefits of these compounds with those of drinking warm liquids. These potential antiviral properties may be helpful if your wheezing is due to a viral infection.
4. Quit smoking
In addition to irritating your airways, smoking can lead to serious conditions that cause wheezing in COPD, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Secondhand smoke can also cause wheezing in others, especially children. According to the Centers for Disease Control, children exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk of having severe asthma attacks more often and more respiratory infections than those not exposed. Learn more about the different ways to kick the habit.
Avoiding smoke from fireplaces, barbecue grills, and other nontobacco sources can also help to reduce wheezing.
5. Try pursed lip breathing
Pursed lip breathing is a technique for slowing the rate of breathing and making each breath more effective by keeping the airways open longer. When your breathing is more effective, you won’t be working as hard to breathe. So any shortness of breath should improve, and that may help to reduce wheezing.
To practice this technique, start by relaxing your neck and shoulders. Inhale slowly through your nose for two counts, then pucker your lips as if you were going to make a whistling sound. Exhale slowly for four counts. Repeat this exercise several times until you feel more at ease. Your wheezing may subside or at least improve somewhat after pursed lip breathing.
6. Don’t exercise in cold, dry weather
For some people, exercising in dry, cold weather can cause their airways to tighten. As your breathing increases, you may start to wheeze. This is known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, and it can affect people both with or without chronic asthma.
If you only wheeze when exercising in cold conditions or your wheezing gets worse when you do, try moving your workout indoors when the weather’s cold. Get more tips for managing asthma triggered by cold weather.
While wheezing itself isn’t life-threatening, it can be a symptom of conditions that are. If you have an infant or young child who’s wheezing or if you are having bouts of wheezing, consult a doctor. If you have wheezing along with any of the following symptoms, seek emergency medical care:
- bluish tint to skin
- chest pain
- rapid breathing that you can’t control with breathing exercises
- trouble breathing
If you start wheezing after choking on something, encountering an allergen, or being stung by a bee, seek emergency treatment as soon as possible.
The bottom line
Wheezing happens when your airways narrow, usually in response to an illness, irritation, or an underlying condition. It’s important to work with your doctor if you’re wheezing, since it can indicate a breathing problem. Once you’ve worked out a treatment plan with your doctor, you can try using home remedies in addition to any prescribed medication to reduce your wheezing.