Wheezing is an indicator of lung disorders in infants and adults. To identify these lung disorders, one must know what are the exact wheezing symptoms.
What are the Wheezing Symptoms?
Wheezing, clinically also known as 'Sibilant Rhonchi', is a consistent, coarse, high pitched whistling sound produced during breathing; while inhaling and exhaling. It is often accompanied by difficulty in breathing and excess production of mucus in the respiratory tract. This musical high pitched sound of wheezing is often accompanied with chest tightening and particular difficulty in exhaling air out of the lungs. The sound is often more louder and noticeable while exhaling air out of the mouth or nose.
The wheezing sound can be heard more distinctly, when you plug your ears. A doctor will check for wheezing, using a stethoscope, applied to the chest or neck area. Tightness in chest and persistent coughing, along with mucus formation almost always accompanies wheezing.
Stridor is a type of wheezing sound that occurs during inhalation, caused by an obstruction in the larynx or trachea. In serious cases, wheezing may be accompanied with a high fever, with very labored breathing to the point of feeling suffocated.
Wheezing or any high pitched sound occurs when the path of air passing through a tube is suddenly narrowed, which leads to an increase of air velocity causing a high pitched whistling sound. So, these symptoms occur because of the narrowing of air tubes that carry air inside the lungs. An obstruction caused by inflammation of any of these small ducts in the lungs called bronchioles, leads to wheezing.
The nature of wheezing sound changes according to the position and nature of obstruction in the respiratory system. Depending on the position of the obstruction, the occurrence of wheezing in the respiratory cycle varies. The period for which wheezing lasts in the respiratory cycle is directly proportional to the amount of obstruction in the lung airways. In particular, experienced physicians point out that the presence of excess wheezing during the exhaling phase indicates that the peak expiratory flow rate, that is the volume of air exhaled is below 50% of normal.
The pitch of a wheeze cannot really point out the location of lung obstruction. If wheezing is heard during the inspiration phase of breathing and is monotonal, it may be an indicator of obstruction due to foreign bodies, scarring or even a tumor. The loudest wheezes are heard when there is an obstruction in part of the respiratory tree deep inside the lungs.
The case of stridor mentioned before, which involves a harsh whistling sound only during the inhaling phase, is the result of an obstruction in the respiratory tract due to a foreign body, severely cutting off air supply to both the lungs. This is a case of medical emergency that needs to be dealt with, as soon as possible. A pulmonary embolism may cause wheezing, along with severe pain in the chest, coupled with bloody phlegm.
Lung Disorders That Cause Wheezing
Now that we have identified airway narrowing or blockage of the respiratory airways as the cause behind wheezing, let us see what are the lung disease types, that cause this kind of obstruction through inflammation. There are many possible causes of wheezing and its differential diagnosis is wide open. Asthma is the major cause of persistent wheezing and may indicate an impending asthmatic attack. Doctors can narrow down to an exact cause through diagnostic tests and accompanying symptoms.
Here is a list of diseases that may cause wheezing:
- Breathing in a Foreign Object
- Emphysema or Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Heart Failure (a.k.a Cardiac Asthma)
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- Allergic Reaction to food or Insect Sting
- Effect of medicines like Aspirin
- Excessive Smoking
- Viral Infection (especially in Infants)
The treatment method will vary according to the causes of wheezing. In some cases, using a vaporizer and subjecting one self to inhaling heated and particularly moist air, helps in opening up the airways and relieving the wheezing.
In more severe cases caused by lung disorders, the following treatment methods are recommended:
- When the wheezing is so severe that a patient is practically suffocating, there are some emergency treatment methods which includes epinephrine shots, supplying oxygen, administration of corticosteroids, use of ventilators and frequent nebulizer use.
- In case the wheezing is caused by Asthma, then treatment includes a fast acting and long acting bronchodilator inhaler (helps dilation of airways), inhaled corticosteroid, pills to reduce asthma caused airway inflammation, nasal spray and non sedating anti-histamines for allergic cases.
I hope this article has made it abundantly clear that persistent wheezing should not be ignored, especially among infants and children. Many children are particularly vulnerable to lung disorders. Immediate consultation with a doctor and medical treatment is necessary to ensure early recovery.