Wheezing is a whistling sound that occurs during breathing, usually during expiration (breathing air out of the lungs) through narrowed airways. Inflammation of the airways, bronchospasm (tightening of the muscles around the bronchial tubes), and hypersensitivity (reactivity to triggers such as allergens, irritants, or infections) all play a role in the development of wheezing. Any conditions or diseases that can constrict the airways can lead to wheezing. Wheezing can be accompanied by other symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath. Wheezing may also occur in anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.
Related Symptoms & Signs
Other causes of wheezing
- Bacterial Infection
- Foreign Object in Airways
- Virus Infection
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Causes of Wheezing
An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that affects a number of different areas of the body at one time and can be fatal. Causes of anaphylaxis can be a food allergy, latex allergy, allergy to insect stings/bites, asthma, or other materials or conditions. Symptoms include flushing, itching, hives, anxiety, and rapid or irregular pulse. Severe symptoms may be throat and tongue swelling, swallowing, and difficulty breathing. Some disorders appear similar to anaphylaxis such as fainting, panic attacks, blood clots in the lungs, heart attacks, and septic shock. If you think that you may be having an anaphylactic reaction, seek emergency care or call 911 immediately.
A parasite names Ascaris lumbricoides causes ascariasis. Symptoms and signs include abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, nausea, vomiting, fever, and passage of parasites and eggs in the stool. Treatment involves taking oral medications for one to three days.
Aspergillus Infection (Aspergillosis)
An Aspergillus infection is a fungal infection. Signs and symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, bloody sputum, difficulty breathing, and chest and/or joint pain. Treatment depends on the type and severity of the disease.
Asthma is a condition in which hyperreactive airways constrict and result in symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Causes of asthma include genetics, environmental factors, personal history of allergies, and other factors. Asthma is diagnosed by a physician based on a patient's family history and results from lung function tests and other exams. Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) and long-acting bronchodilators (LABAs) are used in the treatment of asthma. Generally, the prognosis for a patient with asthma is good. Exposure to allergens found on farms may protect against asthma symptoms.
Bocavirus infection is usually only found in those with lower respiratory infections or diarrhea. Symptoms include cyanosis, cough, wheezing, runny nose, vomiting, and fever. There is no treatment that effectively targets the bocavirus strain.
Carcinoid Syndrome (Tumor)
A carcinoid tumor is a tumor that develops from enterochromaffin cells. The important characteristic of carcinoid tumors that sets them apart from other gastrointestinal tract tumors, is their potential to cause the carcinoid syndrome. Local symptoms may include abdominal pain, intestinal bleeding, flushing., gastrointestinal bleeding, and diarrhea. Often, symptoms of the carcinoid syndrome can be more devastating than the local symptoms. There are many options for the treatment of carcinoid tumors and carcinoid syndrome.
Chronic bronchitis is a cough that occurs daily with production of sputum that lasts for at least 3 months, 2 years in a row. Causes of chronic bronchitis include cigarette smoking, inhaled irritants, and underlying disease processes (such as asthma, or congestive heart failure). Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Treatments include bronchodilators and steroids. Complications of chronic bronchitis include COPD and emphysema.
COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung condition caused by smoking tobacco, exposure to secondhand smoke, and/or air pollutants. Conditions that accompany COPD include chronic bronchitis, chronic cough, and emphysema. Symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, and chronic cough. Treatment of COPD includes GOLD guidelines, smoking cessation, medications, and surgery. The life expectancy of a person with COPD depends on the stage of the disease.
COPD vs. Emphysema
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the term doctors and other healthcare professionals use to describe a group of serious, progressive (worsens over time), chronic lung diseases that include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and sometimes asthma. The number one cause of COPD or emphysema, is smoking, and smoking is the third leading cause of death in the US.
Emphysema is a COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) that often occurs with other obstructive pulmonary problems and chronic bronchitis. Causes of emphysema include chronic cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, and in the underdeveloped parts of the world. Symptoms of emphysema include chronic cough, chest discomfort, breathlessness, and wheezing. Treatments include medication and lifestyle changes.
Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD)
Graft versus host disease (GVHD) is a condition that happens when immune cells from transplanted donor tissue attack the recipient's tissues. Signs and symptoms of acute GVHD include enteritis, hepatitis, and dermatitis. Chronic GVHD symptoms and signs include rash, skin discoloration, dry mouth or eyes, jaundice, fatigue, and wheezing, among others. The standard of GVHD treatment is immunosuppressant medications.
Heart failure (congestive) is caused by many conditions including coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiomyopathy, and conditions that overwork the heart. Symptoms of heart failure include congested lungs, fluid and water retention, dizziness, fatigue and weakness, and rapid or irregular heartbeats. There are two types of congestive heart failure, systolic or left-sided heart failure; and diastolic or right-sided heart failure. Treatment, prognosis, and life-expectancy for a person with congestive heart failure depends upon the stage of the disease.
Is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Contagious?
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Misophonia is defined as the hatred of sound. Symptoms of this condition include a negative emotional response to certain trigger sounds, such as slurping, snoring, yawning, or throat clearing. Other symptoms include distancing oneself from the trigger, and acting out at the sound's source. Treatment may involve medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, or tinnitus retraining therapy.
Mold exposure may cause symptoms in people who are sensitive to molds. Symptoms of mold allergy include sneezing, runny nose, wheezing, coughing, redness of the eyes, and rash. Prevent mold growth by keeping indoor humidity low, between 30%-50%, using bathroom fans when showering, repairing plumbing leaks quickly, and using an air conditioner during humid seasons.
Occupational asthma is a type of asthma caused by exposure to a substance in the workplace. Symptoms and signs include wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. The usual treatment for occupational asthma involves removal from exposure and the use of bronchodilators and inhaled anti-inflammatory medicines.
Peanut allergies causes signs and symptoms that include hives, itching, redness, and a rash. Severe reactions may cause decreased blood pressure, lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, nausea, and behavioral changes. Someone with a peanut allergy should have an EpiPen with them at all times.
Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Symptoms and signs include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and chills. Antibiotics treat pneumonia, and the choice of the antibiotic depends upon the cause of the infection.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a highly contagious viral infection. Symptoms and signs include fever and nasal congestion and discharge. Treatment focuses on supportive care. This disease has a good prognosis in babies and infants.
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What Is Enterovirus (Non-Polio Enterovirus Infection)?
Non-polio enteroviruses cause a variety of infections, including aseptic meningitis, hand, foot, and mouth disease, herpangina, and the common cold. Symptoms and signs of enterovirus infection include hypoxia, eye pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, and fever. Treatment involves supportive care to reduce symptoms.
What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone With Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency?
Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (A1AD or AATD) is an inherited genetic disorder that occurs due to the mutation of the gene, Serpina1. This results in insufficient levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin (A1AT or AA), which is a protein that protects the lungs. With appropriate treatment, most patients would be able to live a good life with normal life expectancy, work, play sports and exercise.
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Examples of Medications for Wheezing
- albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil)
- budesonide (oral inhalation, Pulmicort, Pulmicort Flexhaler)
- cromolyn, Nasalcrom, Gastrocrom (Intal, Opticrom are discontinued)
- fluticasone disk inhaler - oral, Flovent Rotadisk
- fluticasone propionate oral inhaler (Flovent)
- ipratropium bromide inhaler (Atrovent)
- ipratropium solution - inhalation, Atrovent
- montelukast, Singulair
- omalizumab (Xolair)
- Seebri Neohaler (glycopyrrolate)
- terbutaline (Brethine)
- tiotropium capsule - inhalation