Wheezing refers to a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs during breathing through narrowed airways. It mainly occurs during exhalation but may also be heard during inhalation. Wheezing is usually a sign that an individual may have an underlying breathing problem and sometimes accompanied by coughing and dyspnea (shortness of breath). Often, wheezing is due to problems with the bronchial tubes, the small breathing tubes in the chest.
To understand breathing, its mechanism should also be understood. Breathing is initiated by the expansion of the ribs and the chest while the diaphragm tightens and flattens, resulting to filling the lungs with air. Air enters through the nostrils or mouth passing through the nostrils making the air moist and warm, trapping any particles trying to enter the respiratory system or through the mucus membranes lining the mouth, respectively. The air will then pass down the throat into the trachea or windpipe, bronchi, bronchioles and lastly, alveoli, where gas exchange occurs.
Causes of Wheezing
Airway inflammation, hypersensitivity and bronchospasm may all lead narrowing the airway, which may eventually result to wheezing. Specifically, the following causes may lead to wheezing
- Certain diseases or conditions
- Asthma (most common cause)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux
- Lung cancer
- Viral infection, particularly in infants younger than two years of age
- Certain medications such as, aspirin
- Allergic reaction and possibly, anaphylaxis
- Inhalation of foreign objects
- Vocal cord dysfunction
- Sleep apnoea
- Heart failure
When to Seek Medical Care Regarding Wheezing
Wheezing may come off as scary, especially when it occurs for the first time. When any of the following symptoms manifest, schedule an appointment with a general practitioner:
- Recurring wheezing with an yndetermined cause
- Difficulty breathing
- Changed mental state
- Allergic reaction to an insect bite or medication
In case any of the following symptoms manifest, call for emergency medical services immediately
- Inability to catch a breath
- Hives on the skin and swollen face or throat
Treatment for Wheezing
Wheezing can be alleviated at home. The following tips are generally recommended in cases wheezing is observed to lessen:
- Breathe moisturized air. This can be done by sitting in the bathroom with doors closed. Keep the hot, steamy shower running for a few minutes to give off moist, warm air. A vaporizer may also be used.
- Follow directions for prescribed medications, especially respiratory inhalers.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice or treatment. The information given should not be used for self-diagnosis of possible conditions. Seek medical attention when necessary. Understanding symptoms that are commonly present in medical situations may help when taking first aid training. To learn more about to how to ease symptoms, such as wheezing, enrol in first aid training with workplace approved providers.
Wheezing (2010). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/wheezing/MY00291
Wheezing (2012). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved September 27, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003071.htm