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Why Am I Wheezing?

Wheezing is a common respiratory symptom characterized by a high-pitched, coarse whistling sound when you breathe. While it can affect individuals of all ages, wheezing is often associated with underlying respiratory conditions.

Understanding the common causes and available treatments for wheezing is essential for managing it and improving your overall respiratory health.


One of the primary causes of wheezing is asthma, a chronic inflammatory condition of the airways. In individuals with asthma, exposure to triggers such as allergens, smoke, or exercise can cause the airways to narrow, swell, and produce extra mucus, which can make breathing difficult. This constriction results in a wheezing sound as air struggles to pass through narrowed passages.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema, can also be a significant contributor to wheezing. In COPD, the airways become narrowed and damaged over time — most commonly due to smoking cigarettes — leading to difficulty in breathing and wheezing. Quitting smoking is a crucial step in preventing and managing wheezing associated with this condition.

Respiratory infections like the common cold or influenza can also cause wheezing. Similar to asthma, respiratory infections can lead to inflammation in the airways and increased mucus production, resulting in difficulty breathing and wheezing sounds. Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter cough medications may help alleviate symptoms of a respiratory infection.

Allergies are another common trigger for wheezing. Exposure to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, or pet dander, can lead to an allergic response, causing inflammation in the airways. If you suffer from allergies, consider using air purifiers and taking antihistamines to prevent or manage wheezing.

You may be surprised to learn that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also be a significant contributor to wheezing. Stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus, irritating the airways and causing wheezing. Avoiding large meals before bedtime and elevating your head during sleep can help manage GERD-related wheezing. Medications that reduce stomach acid production may also be prescribed.

In some cases, wheezing can be a symptom of more serious conditions like heart failure or a foreign object obstructing your airway. If you’re experiencing wheezing and don’t suffer from any of the above conditions, you should seek prompt medical attention..


Addressing the underlying cause and managing the symptoms of wheezing can involve a variety of treatments:

• Bronchodilators, which relax and widen the airways, are commonly prescribed to provide immediate relief during wheezing episodes.
• Anti-inflammatory medications, such as corticosteroids, may be prescribed for long-term management of conditions like asthma or COPD.
• Severe respiratory infections may require prescription antiviral medications or antibiotics if a bacterial infection is present.
• Lifestyle modifications, such as smoking cessation, weight management, and avoiding allergens, can also play a crucial role in preventing recurrent wheezing

Wheezing is a common respiratory symptom with various underlying causes. Identifying the specific cause is essential for effective treatment and symptom management. The Lung Docs can help. If you are experiencing wheezing, give us a call at (423) 710-3864 or make an appointment online so we can determine the right treatment for you.

Sources: Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, MedlinePlus

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