Wheezing can be frustrating, particularly if you don’t know the cause. Before you start researching how to stop wheezing, it’s essential to look at the underlying reasons. Certain health conditions that produce wheezing as a symptom can be severe, so consider talking to your doctor if you are worried.
But what does wheezing actually mean? There are differences between shortness of breath, coughing and other respiratory symptoms, so it’s useful to know the distinction.
Wheezing is usually a high-pitched whistling sound, which can be heard when you breathe in or out. You might experience wheezing symptoms on their own, or alongside other breathing difficulties.1
What causes wheezing?
Wheezing is quite a common symptom. It can affect people of any age, and it’s usually present when there are other respiratory symptoms too (although not always).2 It typically happens when your airways are narrowed or inflamed, which means it’s more difficult for air to pass in and out of your lungs.3
Some causes of wheezing include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Respiratory tract infections
- Sleep apnea
- Inhaling a foreign object
There may be another cause of your wheezing, so it’s a good idea to contact your doctor if you have concerns. In an urgent situation, always contact your local emergency service.
Different causes of wheezing in babies
It can be really worrying when newborn babies make a wheezing or snorting sound. In many cases, this isn’t a severe issue. Babies up to three months old almost exclusively breathe through their nose, meaning any obstruction or irritation can result in a wheezing sound.
Some causes of wheezing in babies may include:
- Excess mucus production
- An obstruction in the nasal passage
- Irritation or swelling
- Being in a particular position5
Remember, though: any of the above causes of wheezing can affect babies, children and adults. If you are worried about your child’s breathing, contact your doctor. In an urgent situation, always phone your local accident and emergency service.6
How to stop wheezing
If your wheezing is caused by allergies, a cold or chest infection, your symptoms will usually go away when you start to feel better. If you visit your doctor about wheezing, follow their instructions about taking care of your health, as well as any medications required.
There are some at-home tricks you can try to reduce your wheezing symptoms to make breathing easier.
These may include:
- Drinking warm liquids (like herbal tea)
- Using an air humidifier
- Taking a warm shower
- Eating a nutritious diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Stopping smoking
- Using breathing techniques
- Removing allergens from your environment7,8
Serious warning signs
While wheezing isn’t usually a serious problem, it is essential to keep a close eye on your symptoms in case you need to take action. Some health conditions can be life-threatening, especially when experienced alongside other symptoms.
Contact your local emergency service if you are wheezing and experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Severe breathing difficulties
- Fast breathing
- Chest pain
- Nausea or being sick
- Coughing up blood
- A bluish tint to the skin
Last updated: 22 March 2021