What is wheezing?
Wheezing is a whistling sound that happens when a person is trying to breathe out, but the airways in the lungs are partly blocked.
Wheezing is common in asthma Asthma in Children Asthma causes the airways to become narrow, which makes it hard for your child to breathe. Asthma often starts in childhood, especially before age 5. Many common things can trigger asthma attacks... read more , but it can also be caused by allergies Overview of Allergic Reactions The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system usually reacts to and attacks bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. An allergy... read more and respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis Bronchiolitis Bronchioles are small airways in your lungs. "-Itis" means inflammation. So bronchiolitis is inflammation of the small airways in the lungs. The inflammation makes it hard for children to breathe... read more , colds Common Cold The common cold is a viral infection. It's one of the most common illnesses people get. Colds spread easily from person to person, especially within the first 2 days of symptoms Symptoms include... read more , and flu Influenza (Flu) Influenza, often called the flu, is a viral infection that affects your lungs and airways. Flu symptoms are a little bit like the common cold but are much more severe. The flu spreads easily... read more
Some children who have wheezing when they are young go on to develop asthma
Doctors sometimes prescribe medicines to open the airways
When should my child see a doctor?
Go to the emergency department at a hospital right away if your child has wheezing and any of these warning signs:
Wheezing sound when breathing in, not just when breathing out
Using a lot of the chest muscles to breathe
Wide (flaring) nostrils when breathing
Blue color around the lips
Call the doctor if your child has wheezing and problems eating or drinking, but none of the warning signs.
What causes wheezing in children?
Wheezing that happens suddenly is usually caused by a virus such as a cold Common Cold The common cold is a viral infection. It's one of the most common illnesses people get. Colds spread easily from person to person, especially within the first 2 days of symptoms Symptoms include... read more or flu Influenza (Flu) Influenza, often called the flu, is a viral infection that affects your lungs and airways. Flu symptoms are a little bit like the common cold but are much more severe. The flu spreads easily... read more .
If the wheezing keeps coming back, it’s usually caused by:
Less common causes of wheezing include:
Inhaled object, food, or liquids in the lungs
What will happen at my child’s doctor visit?
Your doctor will ask you questions about your child’s wheezing and if other family members have allergies or asthma. Doctors will also do a physical exam.
What tests will my child need?
The first time your child has wheezing, doctors may do one or more tests:
Do a chest x-ray to look for an object inhaled into the lungs, pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more , or heart failure Heart Failure Your heart pumps blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the rest of your body. Heart failure is when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should. It doesn’t mean your heart has stopped... read more
Place a sensor on your child’s finger to painlessly measure oxygen in the blood (pulse oximetry)
If doctors are sure your child's wheezing is caused by asthma, they don't usually do tests each time your child has some wheezing.
If the wheezing keeps coming back and isn't helped by asthma medicines, doctors may do other tests:
Swallowing studies, where doctors take videos of your child swallowing food or liquids
Bronchoscopy, where doctors put a small flexible tube with a camera through your child's nose and throat to look into the lungs
How do doctors treat wheezing in children?
Doctors may have your child use an inhaler to breathe in medicines that open the breathing passages. These are the same medicines used for asthma, but they also work for wheezing that isn't caused by asthma. If your child’s wheezing is severe, doctors may also give corticosteroids through an IV or by mouth.
Inhalers (also called metered-dose inhalers) are small, hand-held devices. They are the most common way to take asthma medicines. They turn medicine into a fine spray your child can breathe. An inhaler that has a spacer or holding chamber is easier to use.