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Understanding Wheezing -- the Basics

What Is Wheezing?

Many people with respiratory allergies know that bouts of wheezing often come with the arrival of hay fever season. Mild wheezing may also accompany respiratory infections such as acute bronchitis and may be experienced by patients in heart failure and by some with emphysema (or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD). But the characteristic whistling sound of wheezing is a primary symptom of the chronic respiratory disease asthma.

A variety of treatments are available to help alleviate wheezing. You should be regularly monitored by a doctor if you have asthma, severe allergies, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD. Evaluation by a specialist such as an allergist or pulmonologist may also be recommended in some cases.

Recommended Related to Asthma

Learning to Live with Asthma

By Denise Grady Two young brothers with the same chronic illness. One mother's struggle...and what she knows now about keeping her children healthy. When I first learned that my older son had asthma, I imagined that it would go away in a few weeks or months. I clung to that bit of denial, I guess, because it helped ease the fear and sadness as reality sank in. Brian was only 3, and deep down my husband and I knew we were facing a serious chronic disease that would probably hang on...

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What Causes Wheezing?

The whistling sound that characterizes wheezing occurs when air moves through airways that are narrowed, much like the way a whistle or flute makes music. In asthma, this airway narrowing is due to inflammation and spasm of the muscles in the wall of the airways.

Wheezing is usually the result of one of the following health problems:

  • Asthma
  • Allergic reactions to pollen, chemicals, pet dander, dust, foods, or insect stings
  • Acute or chronic bronchitis, which can produce excess mucus in the respiratory tract and cause the lungs' passageways to become blocked

Less commonly, wheezing may also be caused by these health problems:

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on February 28, 2015

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