What is Wheezing?
Wheezing is the shrill, rattling, or coarse whistling sound that people make when they experience difficulty in breathing due to a partially constricted airway. It can occur due to respiratory illnesses, such as acute bronchitis. However, the most common causes of wheezing include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. It is important to note that babies’ airways are narrower wheezing is more common in babies. Children under two are also vulnerable to a common but easily treatable condition known as bronchiolitis. It may also be due to heart failure.
Wheezing can be relieved with a variety of treatments. The doctor will evaluate the wheezing to determine the cause, which can be due to conditions such as asthma, severe allergies, long-term bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD and recommend suitable treatment options.
When should you contact the doctor?
You must contact a doctor when you are experiencing wheezing for the first time and do not know the cause of the attack. You can also seek medical help for any breathing-related issues or if your chronic wheezing is unmanageable.
What are the causes of wheezing?
Wheezing is typically caused by asthma. However, it can be due to a range of other issues, including:
- Allergic reactions to chemicals, dust, foods, insect stings, pollen, and pet dander (material from the body of animals that contain hair, fur, or feathers)
- Bronchitis is a condition where there is inflammation in the bronchial tube lining.
- Bronchiolitis, a lung infection that inflames airways and leads to congestion, generally in children
- Congestive heart failure
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis – is an inherited disorder that results in severe damage to the lungs, digestive system, and other organs in the body.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Lung cancer
- Obstruction of an airway due to the inhalation of an object such as a coin
- Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs.
- Smoking or breathing in smoke
- Sleep apnea
- Vocal cord problems
What are the risk factors for wheezing?
Wheezing can affect anyone. However, some risk factors can make a person more vulnerable to wheezing, such as certain hereditary health conditions. People must avoid these risk factors as they may help improve wheezing. The patient must also avoid triggers whenever possible, including pollen and other allergens.
How is wheezing treated?
The treatment for wheezing is dependent on its underlying cause. In severe cases, patients suffering from wheezing may need hospitalization to improve their breathing if wheezing is severe or interfering with their breathing. Prescription anti-inflammatory medicines can help reduce inflammation and excess mucus in the airways for certain lung conditions. These medications are generally available in the form of inhalers. However, they are also available in the form of nebulizers.
Asthma is manageable with medications, such as inhalers to reduce inflammation and open your airways (a bronchodilator, for example). Inhaled corticosteroids and pills like montelukast are anti-inflammatory medications used to treat asthma.
Bronchitis is treated with bronchodilators to open the airways and antibiotics may also be used to treat bacterial infections . The patients take the medicines through an inhaler or pills. Mucolytic drugs can assist in thinning the mucus in the lungs so that it becomes easier for people to cough it out.
Other causes of wheezing may need specific treatments. Your treating doctor will recommend a plan to treat the underlying cause of the condition and soothe your symptoms to help feel better faster.
What are the measures that people should take to prevent wheezing?
People can take some measures to prevent wheezing, including:
- Installing a humidifier to keep the air moist. If a humidifier is unavailable, patients can also take a warm, steamy shower or sit in the bathroom with the door closed when they are taking a hot shower. It acts as a humidifier and provides relief from wheezing.
- Drinking warm liquids such as water,tea etc can aid in loosening up the airways and relieving congestion.
- Quitting smoking and avoiding people who smoke will be of immense help .
- Performing breathing exercises can help the lungs function better.
- Install an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to cut down on allergens that often result in asthma attacks
- Inhaling steam , which is warm, moisture-rich air, can be very effective in getting rid of the sinuses and opening up the airways.
Wheezing can be a symptom of some health conditions, including asthma, COPD, and heart conditions. Wheezing is usually treated by addressing the underlying disease, including inhaled medications, tablets, or injections. If they are treated properly on time, most bouts of wheezing can be quickly managed.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. When should people seek immediate medical care?
When wheezing is accompanied by shortness of breath, hives or if a patient’s face or throat is swollen, the patient must seek immediate emergency medical care.
2. How is wheezing diagnosed?
Doctors perform a physical exam and ask patients about their medical history and symptoms. The physical exam can include auscultation (listening to the lung sounds with a stethoscope). The tests include blood work (with the likely inclusion of arterial blood gases), chest x-ray, and lung function tests.
3. What are some of the breathing exercises that people can try?
People can try the following breathing exercises:
- Pursed-lip breathing – To perform this breathing exercise, one must breathe in through the nose and breathe out for double the duration, with the lips pursed as if whistling.
- Belly breathing – One must breathe in through the noses to perform this breathing exercise. This is done by placing the hands on the belly and paying attention to how it expands. Afterward, one must breathe out through the mouth at least 2 to 3 times longer than the time taken to breathe in.