Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made while breathing. It's often associated with difficulty breathing. Wheezing may occur during breathing out (expiration) or breathing in (inspiration).
Inflammation and narrowing of the airway in any location, from your throat out into your lungs, can result in wheezing.
The most common causes of recurrent wheezing are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which both cause narrowing and spasms (bronchospasms) in the small airways of your lungs.
However, any inflammation in your throat or larger airways can cause wheezing. Common causes include infection, an allergic reaction or a physical obstruction, such as a tumor or a foreign object that's been inhaled.
Mild wheezing that occurs along with symptoms of a cold or upper respiratory infection (URI), does not always need treatment.
See a doctor if you develop wheezing that is unexplained, keeps coming back (recurrent), or is accompanied by any of the following signs and symptoms:
- 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 emergency treatment.
To ease mild wheezing related to a cold or URI, 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 wheezing.
- Take all prescribed medications. Follow the doctor's instructions.
April 27, 2017
- Irwin RS. Evaluation of wheezing illnesses other than asthma in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 24, 2017.
- Oo S, et al. The wheezing child: An algorithm. Australian Family Physician. 2015;44:360.
- Kryger MH, et al., eds. Overlap syndromes of sleep and breathing disorders. In: Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Elsevier Saunders; 2017. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 24, 2017.
- Wheezing. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec05/ch045/ch045j.html#. Accessed March 24, 2017.
- Weiner DL. Acute respiratory distress in children: Emergency evaluation and initial stabilization. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 24, 2017.
- Bites and stings. American College of Emergency Physicians. http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/Emergency-101/Emergencies-A-Z/Bites-and-Stings/. March 24, 2017.
- VanGarsse A, et al. Pediatric asthma for the primary care practitioner. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2015;42:129.
- AskMayoExpert. Bronchiectasis. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2016.
- Pappas DE. The common cold in children: Management and prevention. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed March 24, 2017.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 2, 2017.