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Wheezing

What is Wheezing?

Wheezing is a whistling or squeaking noise that occurs when the bronchial tubes (airways) of the lungs narrow because of inflammation or buildup of mucus. As the bronchial tubes become smaller, wheezing is heard first when a person breathes out. As the airways narrow even further, wheezing also may be heard when a person breathes in.

Children younger than 5 years of age (and especially those under age 2 years) often develop wheezing during a respiratory infection. Children with a family history of allergies may be more likely than other children to have wheezing with colds. Children with certain viral infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus (which causes the common cold), and influenza, are more likely to develop wheezing. RSV causes a condition in infants called bronchiolitis, which is a common cause of wheezing.

In older children, teens, and adults, a first episode of wheezing may be an indication of asthma. However, wheezing and asthma are so linked in many people’s minds that other causes are often missed. An inhaled foreign object should always be suspected – especially with the first episode of wheezing. They can occur at any age, but are most common in young children; especially in those too young to be able to describe what happened.

What Causes Wheezing?

Other causes of wheezing may include:

  • Allergic Reactions—which may be from medications such as penicillin, or due to bee or wasp stings, certain foods, or some other substance
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Heart Failure
  • Inflammation of the Lung—from other conditions
  • Lung Cancer
  • Mitral Stenosis—a disorder that affects one of the valves of the heart
  • Pneumonia and Other Lung Infections

How is Wheezing Treated?

Wheezing is often treated with medications that reverse the tightness of the small airways of the chest. This most often includes bronchodilator medicines, which relax the smooth muscles around the airways and anti-inflammatory medicines, which reduce swelling within the airways. Or treatment may include a surgical procedure to remove a foreign object or antibiotics for a lung infection.

Last modified on: 2 April 2014


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