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Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • Wheezing can be caused by seven main factors including asthma, smoking, foreign objects in the throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, certain medications, and allergies, with asthma and smoking being the most common.
  • Health conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea, congestive heart failure, and tumors can also lead to wheezing.
  • Wheezing is not to be taken lightly as it can be a symptom of serious health conditions.
  • Medical attention should be sought if wheezing persists.
  • The article provides a list of questions your doctor may ask about your wheezing and alternative terms for wheezing.

Top 7 Wheezing Causes

1. Asthma

Asthma is one of the most common causes of consistent wheezing, which is the whistling sound that can occur when someone breathes in and out.[1] Asthma can cause the airways to become narrower or to swell up. It can also cause extra production of mucus, all of which can lead to wheezing. Most people already know if they have asthma, having usually experienced it since childhood, but it can still be important to get a checkup for persistent wheezing.

2. Smoking

Smoking is another common cause of wheezing, especially if you are often exposed to cigarette smoke.[2] If you or someone you live with smokes, you may be dealing with wheezing on a daily basis, especially if you have a bad reaction to the smoke or if you have been smoking for years. If you are starting to wheeze as a reaction to smoking or being around smoke, it might be best to limit your interaction with cigarettes, as this can also be a sign of emphysema.

3. Foreign object in the throat

Wheezing can sometimes be a symptom of inhaling a foreign object that is very small but not small enough to be swallowed, such as a coin, toy, or another small item. The object may have lodged itself in your throat, causing an obstruction in your airway.[1] This is more common with children, but it does occur in adults as well.

4. Bronchitis

Whether acute or chronic, bronchitis can often be the cause of wheezing. This is because mucus builds up in the passages that carry most of the air to the lungs. The passages will also swell up, making it harder for air to get through.[3] This creates the telltale whistling noise associated with wheezing.

5. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is another illness that can cause wheezing.[4] It is an infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs of the lungs. Depending on the individual, the illness can potentially be life-threatening. If you are older and think you might have pneumonia, it’s important to see your doctor immediately.

6. Medications

Taking certain medications can sometimes cause wheezing. The most commonly used medication that causes wheezing in some individuals is aspirin.[3]

7. Allergies

Most people who are allergic to certain drugs, insect stings, foods, pet dander, or other items will already be informed of this problem. Allergic reactions can, in fact, lead to symptoms that make it hard to breathe. If a person starts to go into anaphylactic shock, the symptoms of which are trouble breathing, swelling of the throat or tone, and dizziness, you should call 911 right away to help them get immediate treatment.[1]

Possible Health Conditions Related to Wheezing

1. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Along with asthma, COPD is the most common cause of wheezing.[2] This is not one illness but rather a group of lung diseases. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most common forms of COPD, and many people who have one of these conditions have both.[5] Smoking is the most common cause of COPD. Besides wheezing, the other symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, clearing of the throat, coughing, chest tightness, frequent colds, and fatigue. There are treatments available, such as medications, oxygen therapy, and even surgery.

2. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Acid reflux, which is the result of stomach contents moving up into the esophagus, can happen to anyone. However, those who experience it more than twice a week may have a condition known as GERD.[6] The symptoms of GERD can be a bitter taste in the back of the throat, heartburn, problems swallowing, cough, asthma, and wheezing. You can take antacids or other over-the-counter drugs for GERD, but some people experience it so often that they need more intensive treatments.

3. Cystic fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is another possible cause of wheezing. It is an inherited disease that causes problems in the lungs, including damage to the tissue.[1] Cystic fibrosis can also make one’s mucus thick and sticky, which makes breathing much harder.

4. Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea causes breathing to completely stop repeatedly while you’re sleeping. A person who has sleep apnea will often wake up periodically to start breathing again. Sleep apnea leads to a feeling of tiredness the next day, as well as a host of other issues throughout the body.[7] If someone has sleep apnea, they may not notice the wheezing or snoring sounds they make when they are sleeping, but a sleeping partner probably will. Sleep apnea can be a life-threatening condition that requires treatment.

5. Congestive heart failure

When the heart stops pumping blood the way that it should, it can lead to congestive heart failure. Someone with this disorder might experience chest pains, coughing, dizziness, bloating, shortness of breath, fast breathing, loss of appetite, palpitations, and other symptoms. One of the symptoms often caused by the coughing and shortness of breath is a wheezing sound.

6. Tumor

A tumor in the lungs or lung cancer can potentially be a sign of wheezing.[1] In most cases, though, this will lead to other symptoms, so it is not likely you are experiencing this problem if your only symptom is wheezing.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask about Wheezing

  • When did you start to experience wheezing and for how long does it usually occur?
  • Does it happen when you’re awake or just when you’re sleeping?
  • Have you had a recent illness?
  • Are you experiencing other symptoms such as thick mucus, trouble breathing, or dizziness?
  • Do you smoke or do you live with someone who smokes?
  • Do you have asthma?
  • Are you allergic to anything?

Wheezing May Also be Known as:

  • Bronchospasm
  • Gasping
  • Audible breathing
  • Whistling breathing


Frequently asked questions

  • What are the most common causes of wheezing?

    The most common causes of wheezing are asthma and smoking.
  • Can wheezing be a symptom of serious health conditions?

    Yes, wheezing can indicate serious health conditions such as COPD, GERD, cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea, congestive heart failure, and tumors.
  • Should I seek medical attention if I'm wheezing?

    Yes, if you're experiencing persistent wheezing, it's advised to seek medical attention.
  • What other health conditions can lead to wheezing?

    Besides asthma and smoking, bronchitis, pneumonia, certain medications, allergies, and foreign objects in the throat can cause wheezing.
  • What might my doctor ask me about my wheezing?

    Your doctor might ask about the frequency of your wheezing, any triggers, and if you have any known allergies or health conditions.
  • Are there other terms for wheezing?

    Yes, the article lists alternative terms for wheezing, although it doesn't specify what they are.
  • Can medications cause wheezing?

    Yes, certain medications can cause wheezing.
  • Can smoking cause a reaction leading to wheezing?

    Yes, smoking can lead to a reaction causing wheezing.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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