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Wheezing When Lying Down


Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling or rattling sound that occurs when breathing, particularly during an exhale. The wheezing sound is the result of constricted or inflamed airways, most frequently caused by asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Read on to learn more about the causes of wheezing while lying down.

Wheezing when lying down

Wheezing might only occur, or get worse when lying down. For some conditions, wheezing when lying down only starts after a few hours of being reclined. If you are only wheezing when lying down, it might be a sign of one of these following conditions:

Sleep apnea is a condition where breath stops and starts throughout sleep. Symptoms of sleep apnea can include wheezing when lying down, accompanied by:

  • Loud snoring
  • Gasping for air
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches in the morning
  • Insomnia
  • Hypersomnia (excessive daytime sleepiness)
  • Episodes of breath stopping during sleep

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is the progressive decline of the heart's ability to pump blood.

Cor pulmonale is similar, failure of the right side of the heart. These conditions might not show any symptoms, or symptoms might develop as the problem progresses. Symptoms for both heart failure and cor pulmonale include:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing when lying down
  • Sudden shortness of breath accompanied by coughing up foamy mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • More frequent urination at night
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Productive wheezing or coughing (white or pink phlegm comes out)
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficult concentration
  • Swelling of appendages below the waist (legs and feet)
  • Chest pain (if heart failure is the result of a heart attack)

Nocturnal asthma. Asthma can be worse during sleep. Although the reason for this is not explicitly known, possible reasons include: cooler air, reclined body position, and hormone changes. Symptoms of nocturnal asthma might include:

  • Wheezing
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty or shortness of breath

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) causes stomach acid to flow into the esophagus. This can result in breathing issues like wheezing. The stomach acid can trigger asthma for people who have both conditions. Symptoms of GERD are often worse at night, which might cause wheezing when lying down accompanied by:

Other causes of wheezing

Many medical conditions can cause wheezing whether or not you are lying down. Some conditions are chronic, some are acute, some are minor and manageable, and some are emergencies.

Contact a doctor if you have: wheezing symptoms for the first time; fever of 101° F or more; yellow, green, or bloody mucus that is coughed up; bluish skin; or a change in mental state or decreased alertness.

Seek emergency care if wheezing is accompanied by severe allergic reaction; sharp, localized chest pain; or a sensation of suffocation.

Additional causes of wheezing include:

  • COPD
  • Respiratory tract infections (e.g. bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia)),
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer

Seek immediate medical attention for wheezing caused by:

  • Foreign objects inhaled "down the wrong pipe"
  • Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction)

If you are experiencing wheezing while lying down book an appointment with a PlushCare physician to get an official diagnosis today.

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Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn

Ryan has a background in geochemical research and enjoys writing on technical subjects like health and science. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT and can be found recreating in the local mountains.

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