Wheezing results from a narrowing of the airways due to inflammation or physical obstruction (such as a tumor or foreign object that was inhaled). When air passes through the narrowed airways, it produces a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing.
Wheezing occurs mostly when a person exhales, but it may also occur when he inhales. According to the Mayo Clinic, asthma is the most common cause of wheezing. Other health conditions that can cause wheezing include:
- Heart failure
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Epiglottitis (swelling of the lid of the windpipe)
- Lung cancer
- Sleep apnea
- Vocal cord dysfunction
When to Seek Medical Attention
Call your doctor if you are experiencing unexplained, recurring wheezing for the first time. If you have wheezing accompanied by rapid and/or some difficulty breathing and brief, bluish coloration of the skin, it is a cause for concern. Immediately go to the emergency room if:
You suddenly begin wheezing after a bee sting
- You start wheezing after taking medication
- You begin wheezing after eating a food allergen, such as peanuts or seafood
- Wheezing is accompanied by severe breathing difficulty and bluish skin color
- Wheezing occurs after choking on food or a small object
If you do go to the ER, medical staff may administer any of the following:
- A epinephrine shot to open clogged respiratory passages
- A corticosteroid
- Nebulizer (breathing) treatments
- A ventilator to aid breathing
Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask you questions about your medical history. He may also conduct a series of tests that may include blood work, chest X-ray and lung function tests to determine the possible cause of your wheezing.
Treatment for wheezing typically involves treating the underlying cause. If your wheezing is caused by asthma, the doctor may prescribe an inhaler, an inhaled corticosteroid or other medication to treat the asthma. If the wheezing is due to sleep apnea or some other condition, the course of treatment will target the condition. Once the condition is treated and (hopefully) goes away, the wheezing should stop.
A few home remedies you could try to alleviate wheezing includes using a humidifier or vaporizer to keep the air in your home moist. Drinking warm liquids will relax your airway and loosen mucus in your throat. Staying away from cigarette smoke will also help to keep you from wheezing. Also be sure to follow your doctor’s orders. Take all prescribed medications as directed.