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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What do I need to know about wheezing?

Wheezing happens when air flows through a narrowed or blocked airway. Wheezing can happen when you breathe in, breathe out, or both. Wheezes may sound like a whistle, squeal, groan, or creak. Wheezes may also sound musical or high-pitched.

What causes or increases my risk for wheezing?

  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • A respiratory or sinus infection
  • Extra mucus in sinuses or airways
  • Smoking, or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Certain medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • A foreign body blocking your airway passages

What are the signs and symptoms of wheezing?

  • Noisy breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Fast breathing or heart rate
  • Cough

How is wheezing diagnosed?

  • An x-ray or CT of your chest may show the cause of the wheezing. You may be given contrast liquid to help the lungs show up better in the pictures. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • Blood tests may show infection, blood oxygen levels, and antibody levels.
  • Breathing tests may show how your airways are working. Pulmonary function tests (spirometry) or peak flow can show if your airways are narrowed or blocked.
  • A sputum sample may show if your wheezing is caused by a bacterial infection.

How is wheezing treated?

  • Medicines may help open your airways, decrease your symptoms, or treat an infection. They may be given as an inhaler, nebulizer, or pill.
  • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Return to your usual activity as directed. You may need to limit certain activities. Ask your healthcare provider when it is okay to resume activity.
  • Take deep breaths and cough several times a day. This will decrease your risk for a lung infection and help decrease wheezing. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you can. Let the air out and then cough strongly. Deep breaths help open your airway. You may be given an incentive spirometer to help you take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece in your mouth and take a slow, deep breath in, then let the air out and cough. Repeat these steps 10 times every hour.
  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink more liquids than usual to thin your mucus and prevent dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

How can I help prevent wheezing?

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Avoid allergy triggers , such as animals, grass, pollen, or dust.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You are dizzy, confused, or feel faint.
  • You have sudden trouble breathing.
  • Your throat feels like it is swelling or feels tight.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cough up blood.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your wheezing does not get better or it gets worse.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright Merative 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.