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).

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.

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.
Apr. 10, 2014