Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound associated with labored breathing.
Wheezing occurs when a child or adult tries to breathe deeply through air passages that are narrowed or filled with mucus as a result of:
Wheezing is most common when exhaling. It is sometimes accompanied by a mildsensation of tightness in the chest. Anxiety about not being able to breatheeasily can cause muscle tension that makes matters worse.
Wheezing is the symptom most associated with asthma. It can be caused by:
- Exposure to allergens (food, pollen, and other substances, that cause a person to have an allergic reaction)
- Ice-cold drinks, orvery cold air
- Strenuous exercise
- Foreign objects trapped in the airway
- Cystic fibrosis, and other genetic disorders
- Respiratory illnesses like pneumonia,bronchitis, congestive heart failure, and emphysema.
To make a diagnosis, a family physician, allergist, or pulmonary specialist takes a medical history that includes questions about allergies, or unexplained symptoms that may be the result of allergic reactions. If the pattern of the patient's symptoms suggests the presence of allergy, skin and blood tests are performed to identify the precise nature of the problem.
A pulmonary function test may be ordered to measure the amount of air movingthrough the patient's breathing passages. X rays are sometimes indicated forpatients whose wheezing seems to be caused by chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
Mild wheezing may be relieved by drinking plenty of juice, water, weak tea, and broth. Ice-cold drinks should be avoided.
A vaporizer can help clear air passages. A steam tent, created by lowering the face toward a sink filled with hot water, placing a towel over the head andsink, and inhaling the steam, can do likewise.
Bronchodilators (medications that help widen narrowed airways) may be prescribed for patients whose wheezing is the result of asthma.
Antibiotics are generally used to cure acute bronchitis and other respiratoryinfections. Expectorants (cough-producing medications) or bronchodilators are prescribed to remove excess mucus from the breathing passages.
If wheezing is caused by an allergic reaction, antihistamines will probably be prescribed to neutralize body chemicals that react to the allergen.
Breathing problems can be life-threatening. Immediate medical attention is required whenever an individual:
- Turns blue or gray and stops breathing
- Becomes extremely short of breath, and is unable to speak
- Coughs up bubbly-pink or white phlegm
- Seems to be suffocating
- Develops a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
- Wheezes most of the time, and coughs up gray or greenish phlegm.
Certain yoga positions (Bridge, Cobra, Pigeon, and Sphinx) may relieve wheezing by improving breathing control and reducing stress. Patients whose wheezing is related to asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or a severe allergic reaction may benefit from these techniques, but must continue to have their condition monitored by a conventional physician.
Mild wheezing caused by infection or acute illness usually disappears when the underlying cause is eliminated.
Some doctors believe that childhood respiratory infections may activate partsof the immune system that prevent asthma from developing.
Stopping smoking can eliminate wheezing. So can reducing or preventing exposure to other substances that cause the problem.