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What Causes Wheezing?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on April 30, 2018Written by Kristeen Moore

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made while you breathe. It’s heard most clearly when you exhale, but in severe cases, it can be heard when you inhale. It’s caused by narrowed airways or inflammation. Wheezing may be a symptom of a... Read More

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made while you breathe. It’s heard most clearly when you exhale, but in severe cases, it can be heard when you inhale. It’s caused by narrowed airways or inflammation.

Wheezing may be a symptom of a serious breathing problem that requires diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of wheezing

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are the most common causes of wheezing, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, there are many other potential causes. Before you can put a stop to your wheezing, your doctor must determine why it’s occurring.

Wheezing may also be an indication of:

Wheezing may be triggered by short-term illnesses or health emergencies, including:

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Risk factors for wheezing

Wheezing can happen to anyone. However, there are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing a wheeze. Hereditary illnesses, such as asthma, can run in families.

Wheezing can also occur in:

Controlling risk factors, such as smoking, may help improve wheezing. You should also avoid triggers that make you wheeze, such as pollen and other allergens.

Some factors are out of your control, so the goal is to treat your symptoms to improve your overall quality of life.

When to seek medical help

Tell your doctor when you experience wheezing for the first time. They’ll need to know if you’re wheezing and having difficulty breathing, if your skin has a bluish tinge, or if your mental state is altered. This information is important for them to have, even if this isn’t your first bout of wheezing.

If your wheezing is accompanied by difficulty breathing, hives, or a swollen face or throat, seek emergency medical care instead.

Treatment for wheezing

Treatment for wheezing has two goals:

  • to control the inflammation in your airways
  • to open up your breathing tubes with quick-acting medications

Prescription anti-inflammatory medications can decrease inflammation and excess mucus in your airways. They typically come in the form of inhalers, but they’re also available as long-acting tablets. Syrups are used for young children.

Bronchodilators are a quick-acting medication, and they’re often used to treat wheezing and help relieve a cough. They work by relaxing the smooth muscles that encircle your breathing tubes.

Your doctor might recommend both anti-inflammatory and quick-acting medications if the wheezing is related to a long-term illness, such as asthma or COPD.

Alternative remedies for wheezing

Home remedies may help improve wheezing in some people. For example, keeping your home warm and humid can open up your airways and help you breathe more easily.

Sitting in a warm, steamy bathroom can sometimes help. Dry, cold climates can worsen wheezing, especially when exercising outdoors.

Complementary medicines, such as herbs and supplements, may also help control your wheezing. It’s important that you discuss any alternative medicines with your doctor before starting them.

These alternative remedies may help alleviate asthma-induced wheezing:

Shop for a humidifier.

Also shop for vitamin C supplements, vitamin E supplements, and gingko biloba.

Possible complications

Because wheezing can be caused by serious underlying conditions, it’s important to tell your doctor when you first begin to wheeze.

If you avoid treatment or fail to follow your treatment plan, your wheezing could worsen and cause further complications, such as shortness of breath or an altered mental state.

Long-term outlook

The outlook for people who wheeze depends on the exact cause of their symptoms. Chronic asthma and COPD often require long-term treatment. However, wheezing that’s associated with short-term illnesses usually disappears when you get well.

Make sure to tell your doctor if your wheezing reoccurs or worsens. This often means that you need a more aggressive treatment plan to prevent complications.

Preventing wheezing

In the case of some chronic illnesses, such as asthma, wheezing can’t be prevented without medical intervention. However, taking your prescribed medications along with recommended home remedies can improve your symptoms.

Don’t discontinue your medications without your doctor’s consent, even if you think that your symptoms are improving. This can lead to dangerous relapses.

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Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on April 30, 2018Written by Kristeen Moore

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on April 30, 2018Written by Kristeen Moore
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