CareNow® - September 18, 2020

Wheezing can be a scary feeling, especially when you’re unsure of the cause.

Fortunately, the act of wheezing is rarely serious in and of itself. The underlying cause, however, may be cause for concern.

Having a provider properly diagnose the cause of your wheezing is the first step to treating the issue.

Here’s what you need to know about wheezing and when you should visit an urgent care.

What is wheezing?

Wheezing occurs whenever you make a high-pitched whistling sound when you breathe. This sound is a result of air moving through narrowed airways.

If you have asthma, the airways may narrow because of inflammation, mucus or muscle spasms in the wall of the airways.

What causes wheezing?

Those who suffer from allergies are especially prone to wheezing—especially during hay fever season. Pollen, chemicals, pet dander, dust, insect stings and food allergies may all cause wheezing.

Wheezing is also a common symptom of respiratory infections, such as acute or chronic bronchitis.

An infection may create more mucus than is necessary in the respiratory tract, which can block the passageways of the lungs.

Asthma, a chronic respiratory disease, is one of most common causes of wheezing. This condition causes the airways to narrow, swell and produce excess mucus, making it difficult to breathe.

Other causes of wheezing include emphysema, pneumonia, congestive heart failure, cystic fibrosis and bronchiolitis.

Is wheezing serious?

Wheezing in itself isn’t necessarily a serious problem; however, the underlying conditions of wheezing may be more serious.

For instance, wheezing may be symptomatic of an asthma attack or a serious condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (commonly referred to as COPD).

Wheezing can also become serious if you fail to follow the treatment plan your provider sets up for you.

When wheezing is left untreated, it could cause further complications like shortness of breath or, in severe cases, an altered mental state.

How do I get rid of wheezing?

If you are wheezing, it’s important to see a provider, who can determine the cause. This will help to decide the course of treatment.

If your provider diagnoses you with asthma, a medication will likely be prescribed to help ease inflammation, open your airways and prevent symptoms.

For bronchitis, your provider may recommend medication to help open your airways as well as an antibiotic to cure the bacterial infection that’s present.

You may also want to use a humidifier to keep the air moist. A steamy shower can also do the trick.

Warm liquids, such as hot tea, can work wonders by relaxing your airways and loosening up sticky mucus.

To help minimize the allergens in your home that may trigger an asthma attack, consider purchasing an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Once your provider has prescribed you medication to help with the wheezing, it’s important that you take the medicine to completion in order to reap the benefits.

How to prevent wheezing

One of the biggest ways to prevent wheezing is to avoid smoking and to stay away from second-hand smoke.

Breathing exercises can improve your lung capacity, which, in turn, helps asthma symptoms like wheezing. These exercises may include pursed lip breathing and belly breathing.

When practicing pursed lips, you will want to breathe in through your nose, then breathe out for twice as long, all while pursuing your lips.

With belly breathing, you will inhale through your nose, then exhale through your mouth for up to three times as long as you breathed in. The most important thing with exercise is paying attention to how your belly fills with air.

Most causes of wheezing will recover quickly; however, in order to fully prevent it from happening again, your provider may need to develop a long-term treatment plan for you.

Keeping the air in your home clean and moist can significantly help prevent you from wheezing.

If you notice that your wheezing is happening again or getting worse, it’s important to let your provider know  

Should I see a provider for wheezing?

If you believe your wheezing is due to a mild illness, such as the common cold, it’s not necessary to see a provider.

However, if you experience trouble breathing, your breathing quickens substantially or your skin briefly turns blue, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

In situations where you begin wheezing immediately after you are stung by a bee or after you’ve consumed a food or medication that you are allergic too, you should go to the emergency room.

This is especially urgent if your wheezing is accompanied by severe difficulty breathing or bluish skin that does not go away. You should also go to the ER if you begin wheezing after you choke on a small piece of food.

If your wheezing appears alongside hives or a swollen face, emergency medical care is most likely needed.

In order to determine the cause of your wheezing, your provider will likely want to know how long you have been wheezing, how frequently you are wheezing and if you wheeze more during the day or night.

Your provider may also want to know if your wheezing happens when you exercise and if certain foods seem to cause it.

In order to properly diagnose you, an X-ray may be ordered to get a full picture of your lungs. Lung function tests may also be recommended to reveal how well they work.

A blood test can also be helpful to check your oxygen levels. If your levels are low, it could be an indication that you have a lung problem.

If you need to seek medical attention for your wheezing, consider visiting your local CareNow®.

We have more than 100 locations throughout the United States, each staffed with a highly qualified provider on-site with experience in family medicine.

Every location is also open seven days a week with extended hours to provide you fast and convenient healthcare.

Don’t forget to take advantage of our Web Check-In® feature so you can rest at home and avoid the waiting room before your visit.

If you don’t have time to make an appointment at CareNow®, don’t worry—each of our clinics welcomes walk-in patients.

Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.