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Wheezing can be an alarming and distressing symptom, especially when it occurs in a young child or person with severe respiratory conditions. In most instances, wheezing is not serious unless it is associated with severe health conditions, including asthma, or is part of an anaphylaxis shock.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that is caused by air being forced through narrowed airways in the lungs. It is most obvious when the person is breathing out, but it is also sometimes heard on inhalation as well.

Wheezing is a symptom of many conditions which range in severity and include:

Severe allergic reaction / anaphylaxis
Emphysema (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Smoking-related illnesses
Viral infection (especially common in children under the age of 2)
Medications, including aspirin, can also cause wheezing

Babies and young children often wheeze, especially if they have a cold or chest infection. This does not necessarily mean the baby has asthma although the wheezing may be treated with asthma drugs.

If your breathing or chest is wheezing you should slow down and rest as much as possible. Make sure you are taking all your medication as directed, particularly if the wheezing is caused by lung disease being treated with medication. Wheezing may possibly be relieved by inhaling moist, heated air such as in a steam room, hot shower or by using a vaporiser.

Wheezing can be serious and you should seek medical attention if:

This is the first attack of wheezing
Wheezing occurs with shortness of breath, bluish skin or confusion
Attacks of wheezing remain unexplained
The wheezing is part of a severe allergic response to an allergen like a bee sting or medication

If your wheezing is due to asthma, then it occurs because of narrowed airways resulting from the immune response to allergen exposure. Therefore, you may be able to prevent an attack by reducing the allergens in your surroundings. Common allergens which can produce wheezing include:

House dust mite
Traffic and air pollution

Therefore, there are various measures you could take to improve indoor air quality and possibly decrease wheezing:

Regular damp dusting, and keeping clutter down, can reduce house dust mite and its droppings
Replacing carpet with hard flooring would also help reduce house dust mites
If you cannot or do not wish to replace your carpet try to use a HEPA hoover
Always open windows when you have been showering, bathing or cooking to prevent mould spores through dampness and condensation
Wash your clothes using an allergen wash laundry detergent
If exposure to pollen seems to cause wheezing, then try an antihistamine medication
Remove pollen grains from clothing and hair by showering and getting changed when you come in from outdoors
Use of an air purifier indoors, particularly in a child's bedroom

Research has shown that where a HEPA air purifier is used, childhood asthma and wheezing tends to improve. When it comes to outdoor pollutants that cause wheezing, it is harder to control exposure, but checking daily pollutant and pollen levels can help you to plan your activities.

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