What causes wheezing?

Wheezing can result from either of two respiratory 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
  • Respiratory syncytial virus infection

Other causes of wheezing

Wheezing can also have other causes including:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Aspirated foreign body
  • 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:

  • Acute asthma attack unresponsive to prescribed therapy
  • 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:

  • Adverse effects of treatment
  • Heart failure
  • Progression of symptoms
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Sleep disorder
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection

References:

  1. Asthma. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000141.htm.
  2. Bloomberg GR. Recurrent wheezing illness in preschool-aged children: assessment and management in primary care practice. Postgrad Med 2009; 121:48.
  3. Calışkan M, Bochkov YA, Kreiner-Møller E, et al. Rhinovirus wheezing illness and genetic risk of childhood-onset asthma. N Engl J Med 2013; 368:1398.
  4. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  5. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
  6. Wheezing. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003070.htm.
INTRODUCTION

What is wheezing?

Wheezing is a whistling sound made during inhalation or exhalation. Wheezing can result from either of two respiratory 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 b... 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: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 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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