Overview

What is wheezing?

Wheezing is the shrill, coarse whistling or rattling sound your breath makes when your airway is partially blocked.

Some wheezes can only be heard with a stethoscope, but often they can be heard with the human ear. Wheezing is more obvious when you breathe out (exhale), but can also be heard when you breathe in (inhale). The tone of the wheeze can vary depending on which part of the respiratory system is blocked or narrowed. Narrowing in the upper respiratory system may make for a hoarser wheeze. Lower obstructions may have a more musical tone, similar to a how a wind instrument like a clarinet might sound.

Anyone – from infants to elderly adults – can develop wheezing. Children with asthma often develop it. Wheezing is also quite common in infants; it’s estimated that up to 25% to 30% of infants develop wheezing in their first year of life.

Wheezing may be more common in babies because of their smaller airways. Also, children under two are susceptible to a common, but easily treatable condition called bronchiolitis. This is caused by a viral respiratory infection and inflammation. In adults, smokers and people with emphysema or heart failure are most prone to wheezing.

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