Wheezing

    Wheezing

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    Definition of wheezing

    Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made while breathing. Most commonly wheezing occurs during breathing out (expiration), but it can sometimes be related to breathing in (inspiration).

    Causes of wheezing

    Wheezing results from a narrowing of the airways and typically indicates some difficulty breathing. The narrowing of the airways can be caused by inflammation from asthma, an infection, an allergic reaction, or by a physical obstruction, such as a tumor or a foreign object that’s been inhaled.

    The most common cause of recurrent wheezing is asthma. Possible causes of wheezing include:

    1. Allergies
    2. Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction, such as to an insect bite or medication)
    3. Asthma
    4. Bronchiectasis, a chronic lung condition in which abnormal widening of bronchial tubes inhibits mucus clearing
    5. Bronchiolitis (especially in young children)
    6. Bronchitis
    7. Childhood asthma
    8. COPD — Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    9. Emphysema
    10. Epiglottitis (swelling of the “lid” of your windpipe)
    11. Foreign object inhaled
    12. GERD — Gastroesophageal reflux disease
    13. Heart failure
    14. Lung cancer
    15. Medications (particularly aspirin)
    16. Pneumonia
    17. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (especially in young children)
    18. Respiratory tract infection (especially in children younger than 2)
    19. Sleep apnea, obstructive (a condition in which breathing stops and starts during sleep)
    20. Smoking
    21. Vocal cord dysfunction (a condition that affects vocal cord movement)

    When to see a doctor

    Talk to your doctor if wheezing is mild and is happening for the first time, it’s a recurrent, unexplained problem, or it’s accompanied by:

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Rapid breathing
    • Briefly bluish skin color

    Seek emergency care if wheezing:

    • Begins suddenly after being stung by a bee, taking medication or eating an allergy-causing food
    • Is accompanied by severe difficulty breathing or bluish skin color
    • Occurs after choking on a small object or food

    In some cases, wheezing can be relieved by certain medications or use of an inhaler. In others, you might need treatment such as having a breathing tube put down your throat.

    Self-care measures

    To ease wheezing, try these tips:

    • Moisturize the air. Use a humidifier, take a steamy shower or sit in the bathroom with the door closed while running a hot shower. Moist air might help relieve mild wheezing in some instances.
    • Drink fluids. Warm liquids can relax the airway and loosen up sticky mucus in your throat.
    • Avoid tobacco smoke. Active or passive smoking can worsen a cough.
    • Take all prescribed medications. Follow the doctor’s instructions.
    SOURCEMayo Clinic
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