We speak of wheezing when a high-pitched whistling sound occurs when breathing. It is the result of a narrowing or blockage in the airways. Here are the possible causes of this symptom.

A lung problem

In the majority of cases, wheezing is linked to a lung problem:

  • asthma;
  • the abnormal passage through the airways of a solid body (food, small object) placed in the mouth;
  • bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchi, most often of viral origin);
  • the bronchiolitis ;
  • bronchiectasis (abnormal enlargement of the bronchi);
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which results in the progressive narrowing and permanent obstruction of the airways and lungs;
  • Cystic fibrosis ;
  • and emphysema ;
  • respiratory syncytial virus (responsible for winter respiratory illnesses).

Vocal cord dysfunction

Vocal cord dysfunction results in the vocal cords closing abnormally (instead of opening) when inhaling and exhaling. This makes it more difficult for air to enter the lungs and for air to exhale.

Gastroesophageal reflux

And gastroesophageal reflux can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle between the esophagus and the stomach that helps open and close the entrance to the stomach. This can cause wheezing.

An allergy

Allergies to pollen, animal hair or even dust mites can cause wheezing. Wheezing may also occur in cases of anaphylactic shock, a serious allergic reaction.

A heart problem

The accumulation of fluid in the lungs, linked to a heart problem, can result in wheezing.


People who smoke have an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or even emphysema (destruction of the pulmonary alveoli).

Smoking can also make asthma symptoms worse. Other external factors can cause wheezing: certain medications like aspirin or certain sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

Annabelle Iglesias


May 13, 2024, at 5:17 p.m.

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