Wheezing is a high pitched whistling sound emitted when a person breathes. There is difficulty in breathing. There is constriction of the air passages that results in noisy breathing. It usually occurs when a person breathes out but in some people, it may be heard when they inhale.
About one fifth of all children suffer from wheezing till they are about ten years of age. Though most parents find this a cause for worry, it is a normal phenomenon and can be treated simply.
What is the cause?
The condition may be caused due to a variety of reasons. Some of the common causes are:
Acute wheezy or asthmatic bronchitis – wheezing is most often due to increased sensitivity of the respiratory tract. Infections of the lower respiratory tract may cause constriction of the bronchi leading to noisy breathing. Attacks of wheezing are always preceded by a cold or acute respiratory disease and occur most commonly between 3 and 8 years of age.
Inflammation of the bronchioles or air sacs
Tropical eosinophilia – an infection more common among adults than children.
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease
Allergic reaction to insect stings
Loeffler's syndrome – roundworm infection that causes wheezing.
How is it diagnosed?
The whistling sound can be heard whenever the person inhales or exhales. It is a distinctive sound that can be confirmed by listening with a stethoscope.
After a thorough physical examination, the doctor may order certain tests depending on the likely cause. A breathing test called pulmonary function test can help diagnose asthma. Chest X-rays are commonly used to detect pneumonia and other conditions.
How is it treated?
Treatment measures are aimed at opening up the narrowed pathways to make breathing easier. These medications include salbutamol, salmeterol and ipratopium. Treatment is also directed towards the cause whenever possible. For example, if the cause is pneumonia, antibiotics to cure it are prescribed.
What care can be taken at home?
It is advisable to drink plenty of water and other fluids like soups and fruit juices. In case there is a history of irritation due to allergens, the patient must avoid inhaling smoke or dust. This will help to reduce the frequency of a wheezing attack. A doctor's opinion must be sought if the attack is particularly severe or is accompanied by fever.