Wheezing is a general affliction that can be caused by problems in the respiratory system. When airways become constricted or inflamed, a person's breathing can be affected and wheezing symptoms can result.
Wheezing symptoms include:
- A high-pitched whistling or rattling sound during breathing (particularly during an exhale). Wheezes are usually audible to the naked ear, but sometimes they can only be heard with a stethoscope. A whistling sound can also be produced by nasal obstructions or from a deviated septum, but that is not considered a wheeze.
Depending on the cause of wheezing symptoms, a wheeze might be accompanied by:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- A feeling of tightness in the chest
- Loss of voice
- Bluish skin (particularly around the mouth or nails)
Causes of Wheezing Symptoms
Wheezing symptoms are most commonly caused by asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which create narrowed bronchial tubes within the lungs.
Wheezing symptoms can be caused by a variety of other conditions that affect the airways in or out of the lungs. Causes of wheezing symptoms range from chronic and manageable conditions (e.g. asthma) to very serious conditions (e.g. anaphylaxis or heart failure).
Wheezing symptoms can be caused by:
- COPD, particularly during a respiratory infection
- Damaged air sacs in the lungs (emphysema)
- Swelling and buildup of mucus within air passages of the lungs (bronchiolitis) or outside the lungs (bronchitis)
- Heart failure
- Allergic reactions e.g. insect stings
- Foreign objects in the airways
- Aspirin or other medicines
- Sleep apnea
- Lung cancer
Wheezing symptoms are more likely to affect people with allergies, smokers (past or present), or anybody with a chronic condition listed above. Babies may be more likely to have wheezing symptoms due to their smaller airways.
When to See a Doctor
Wheezing could be a sign of something serious. It is important to tell your doctor if you have:
- Wheezing symptoms for the first time.
- Fever of 101° F or more (could indicate infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia).
- Yellow, green, or bloody mucus that is coughed up.
- Bluish skin.
- A change in mental state or decreased alertness.
Seek emergency medical care (Call 911)
If wheezing symptoms are accompanied by:
- Severe allergic reactions such as hives or swelling.
- Coughing up phlegm (bloody, or frothy pink to white).
- Sharp localized chest pain.
- Feeling like you are suffocating.
What to Expect From a Doctor
A doctor will inquire about the history of wheezing symptoms; when symptoms began, duration of symptoms, and if symptoms are worse at a particular time or place. Depending on other symptoms, a doctor might recommend blood tests, chest x-rays, or antibiotics.
Think you may be experiencing symptoms of wheezing? Book an appointment with a PlushCare physician and get a prescription treatment today.