Wheezing is a characteristic high pitched whistling sound made while breathing, a primary symptom of a chronic respiratory disease - Asthma. It is not uncommon in those with respiratory allergies, especially during the hay fever season. Sometimes, other respiratory infections could be accompanied by mild wheezing, especially when acute Bronchitis is experienced. It is also noticed in those with heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD. While most commonly wheezing occurs during breathing out, it can sometimes also be related to breathing in.
Causes of Wheezing
Narrowing of airways results in breathing difficulty and wheezing. There could be several causes for narrowing of airways including inflammation from asthma, infection, allergic reaction or a physical obstruction such as tumor or foreign body inhalation. Among the possible causes of wheezing include allergies, insect bite or medication or pollen, pet dander, dust, foods, Bronchiolitis, bronchitis, childhood asthma, epiglottitis, GERD, heart failure, lung cancer, pneumonia, sleep apnea, smoking and vocal cord dysfunction.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Infection is also known as Bronchiolitis - inflammation of the bronchioles which in turn refer to the the narrow airways which branch from bronchi to the air sacs called as alveoli. This RSV infection largely affects infants and children.
To determine the cause of wheezing, your doctor will ask questions about any symptoms that triggers it. If you have no history of lung disease and develop wheezing after eating a certain food or in a certain season, respiratory allergy is suspected. The doctor checks the lungs with a stethoscope to find out where the wheezing is and how bad it is. During a first time evaluation, the doctor performs a spirometry - breathing test, and also a chest X ray.
Sometimes other blood tests and procedures become necessary depending upon the health condition. In case it is allergic wheezing, then a variety of tests to determine the allergies including dermatological examinations are done.
Wheezing is accompanied by difficult breathing, rapid breathing and briefly bluish skin color. Emergency care must be sought if wheezing begins suddenly after being stung by a bee, while taking medication, or eating an allergy-causing food or after choking on a small object or food.
Wheezing in infants
In case of a baby, wheezing could be due to cold or problematic asthma. But it is not always clear if the infant has asthma. It is essential to get a firm diagnosis and make sure that the child gets treated for any breathing problems. In some infants, Bronchiolitis could occur due to a viral infection. The airways swell making breathing difficult. As the airway of an infant is small, infants are easily affected. Wheezing could result due to Bronchiolitis, which may develop into asthma in later life. Otherwise a child could be born with a tendency to wheeze and therefore could be prone to bronchiolitis and asthma. Less common reasons for wheezing in infants include inhalation of a foreign object or piece of food into the lungs, premature birth, insufficiently developed airways and cystic fibrosis.
A variety of treatments are available to help alleviate wheezing. However, regular monitoring by a doctor is a must, especially if the patient has asthma, chronic allergies, severe bronchitis, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In some, wheezing can be relieved by certain medications or by using an inhaler. Some might need insertion of a breathing tube into the throat. The doctor may recommend some or all of the following to reduce inflammation and open up the airways obstructing breathing to stop wheezing:
Self-care measures to ease wheezing
Moisturize the air by either using a humidifier or a steamy shower or just sit in the bathroom with the door closed while running a hot shower. This is simply because moist air can help relieve mild wheezing in some cases.
Drinking fluids can relax the airway and loosen up sticky mucus in the throat.
Active or passive smoking can worsen a cough and hence it is best to avoid tobacco.
Normally, mild wheezing that accompanies bronchitis disappears when the infection subsides. But in case of breathing difficulty, she needs to rush to the doctor who can administer the following:
It is for the doctor to determine the cause of wheezing and then treat the patient for the specific cause.
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Bibliography / Reference
Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: January 29, 2022