What causes wheezing?

Wheezing can result from either of two lung conditions: reduced airflow resulting from narrowing of the airways or congestion in the lungs. Causes of wheezing include allergies, asthma, infection and inflammation of the lungs or bronchi, other respiratory diseases, and heart conditions.

Respiratory causes of wheezing

Wheezing may be caused by respiratory disorders including:

  • Acute bronchitis
  • Asthma or allergies
  • Bronchiectasis (destruction and widening of the large airways)
  • Bronchiolitis (inflammation of the smallest airways within the lungs)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis
  • Epiglottitis (life-threatening inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, a tissue flap between the tongue and windpipe)
  • Foreign object in the airway
  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumonia

Other causes of wheezing

Wheezing can also have other causes including:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Congestive heart failure (deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in the lungs)
  • Smoking

Serious or life-threatening causes of wheezing

In some cases, wheezing may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Epiglottitis (life-threatening inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, a tissue flap between the tongue and windpipe)
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid buildup in the lungs)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of wheezing

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your wheezing including:

  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • When did you first notice your wheezing?
  • When do you have the wheezing?
  • Are you coughing up any sputum?

What are the potential complications of wheezing?

Because wheezing can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection

References:

Wheezing. FamilyDoctor.org. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003070.htm. Accessed June 1, 2011.

Asthma. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000141.htm. Accessed June 1, 2011.

INTRODUCTION

What is wheezing?

Wheezing is a whistling sound made during inhalation or exhalation. Wheezing can result from either of two lung conditions: reduced airflow resulting from narrowing of the airways or congestion in the lungs.

Causes of wheezing include asthma and infection and inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia) or bronchi (bronchitis). Other common causes include chronic obstructive pulmonary d... Read more about wheezingintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with wheezing?

Wheezing may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the respiratory tract may also involve other body systems.

Symptoms that may occur along with wheezing

Wheezing may accompany other symptoms that affect the respiratory system including:

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Lungs, Breathing and Respiration


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