What is Wheeze ?

It is a whistling sound heard when someone is breathing through a narrow airway. It is often more noticeable when breathing out. 

Sometimes it can only be heard on auscultation with a stethoscope but in more severe cases it can be audible to the human ear. 

wheeze nebuliser

Should I worry about wheeze?

Mild wheezing in the context of a known viral respiratory tract infection does not always require specific treatment and rapidly resolves with the self-limiting illness. 

A new, recurrent or explained it needs investigation and treatment. This is especially important if it is associated with shortness of breath. Emergency assessment is required when the wheeze onset is sudden and there is  severe difficulty in breathing or a rash (e.g. allergic reaction).

What causes wheeze?

Airways may partially blocked or narrowed for several reasons. Common causes of wheeze include:

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Bronchitis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Vocal cord dysfunction
  • Mucus in the airways (e.g. bronchiectasis)
  • Other obstruction of the airway (e.g. lung cancer)
  • Heart failure


Identifying the cause of the it and focusing treatment to the underlying condition is needed.

Bronchodilators help to open up the airways and relieve the airflow obstruction. Inhaled corticosteroids are also helpful to reduce inflammation resulting in narrowing of the airways. 

Measures that can help reduce wheeze include:

  • Humidification of the air
  • Avoid exposure to smoke (stop smoking if you smoke)
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