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Wheezing is a sign and symptom of ailments that lead to airway obstruction. A wheeze is defined as a melodic, high-pitched sound that is developed in the respiratory tract from the larynx to the bronchioles.
It occurs either during exhalation or inhalation. In very few patients, wheezing can occur both during inspiration and expiration.
The type and duration of wheezing depend on the location of the obstruction. If someone makes a whistling or high-pitched sound while breathing out, it could mean that their ability to exhale air is reduced by at least half compared to what is considered normal.
Wheezing is often a sign of asthma, but it can also happen to people who have something stuck in their airway, heart failure, a type of cancer that affects the breathing tubes, or any condition that makes it harder to breathe.
Fortunately, treatment options are available for wheezing, and there are also some things you can do to stop it. (1)
How to Stop Wheezing Quickly
Here are some remedies that may help cease your wheezing and its discomfort.
1. Trust essential oils
Essential oils are commonly used remedies for respiratory tract disorders. They’re commonly employed to treat coughs and related problems and, thus, may be helpful in providing relief from wheezing.
a. Anise oil
Anise oil is extracted from the dry ripe fruits of the anise plant (Anisi aetheroleum), which is native to Southeast Asia. It contains anethole and anisaldehyde, which may be helpful for wheezing.
Anise oil can be utilized for the therapy of respiratory system issues. In one study, a single dose of anise oil of 50–200 μL, thrice every day, worked well. However, remember not to take it for more than 2 weeks. (2)(3)
Anise is available in powder and oil forms that can be used at home. For oral consumption, follow the directions on the packaging or consult a healthcare provider to understand how much to take.
How to use anise oil:
- Anise oil is a highly concentrated essential oil and should always be diluted with a carrier oil before use. The recommended dilution ratio is usually one drop of anise oil to four drops of a carrier oil. Rub a small amount of the diluted mixture on the chest.
- Another way to use anise oil is to inhale it. Add a few drops of the diluted mixture to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam. Alternatively, you can use an essential oil diffuser to disperse anise oil into the air.
- Anise oil is also used in cooking and can be added to foods or beverages. However, it is important to use caution when ingesting essential oils and to only do so under the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
Note: Products that contain anise oil or alcoholic extracts of anise should not be used during pregnancy or lactation.
b. Bitter fennel fruit oil
Bitter fennel fruit oil is extracted from the ripe fruits of Foeniculum vulgare, which is native to the Mediterranean area. The primary components of the oil are fenchone and anethole, which may help manage wheezing.
Conventional medicinal products containing bitter fennel fruit oil are used for treating respiratory complaints associated with colds. A single dose per day of 200 μL of the essential oil or taking the same amount in multiple smaller doses for not more than 2 weeks is helpful. (2)
How to use bitter fennel fruit oil:
- Like anise oil, fennel oil is a highly concentrated essential oil and should always be diluted with a carrier oil before use. After dilution, apply it topically on the chest.
- Fennel oil can also be inhaled to help relieve respiratory symptoms. Add a few drops of the diluted mixture to a bowl of hot water and inhale the steam.
- Another way to use fennel oil is to gargle with it. Add a few drops of the diluted mixture to a glass of warm water and use it as a gargle.
c. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil comes from Eucalypti aetheroleum, which is native to Australia. It contains phytochemicals including 1,8‐cineole, α‐pinene, and camphor.
The primary usage of eucalyptus oil comprises the remedy of bronchitis, relief of symptoms of colds, and treatment of issues arising in the upper respiratory tract.
How to use eucalyptus oil:
For inhalational purposes, 12 drops of eucalyptus oil in 150 ml of boiling water (1.5% V/V solution) can be used, and the remedy may be repeated up to three times every day. (2)
d. Peppermint oil
Peppermint oil is extracted from Menthae piperitae aetheroleum, which is native to Europe. It is rich in menthol, 1, 8‐cineole, limonene, and carvone. The medicinal benefit of peppermint oil includes the symptomatic relief of respiratory issues such as coughs and colds.
How to use peppermint oil:
- To use peppermint oil for respiratory relief, add 3–4 drops of peppermint oil to hot water and inhale the vapors of the same.
- You can apply the essential oil product to the nasal area directly. (2)
Note: Peppermint oil is advised not to be used in children under 2 years of age.
2. Drink hot fluids
Hot fluids, such as hot chicken soup or other hot liquids, may help with wheezing by temporarily increasing the velocity of nasal mucus through the inhalation of water vapor. This effect can also be achieved by inhaling steam.
Research suggests that drinking hot fluids is more effective in relieving respiratory symptoms than consuming cold or room-temperature liquids, especially in the case of respiratory tract infections.
Therefore, drinking hot fluids may be a beneficial natural remedy for wheezing and other respiratory issues. (4)
3. Do breathing exercises
Pursed-lip breathing has been found to be effective in managing asthma symptoms, which may include wheezing.
Studies have shown that exercise programs and respiratory physiotherapy can improve breathing patterns, muscle strength, and overall quality of life for those with asthma. The patients in these studies recorded a reduction in respiratory symptoms after completing the exercise program, which included exercises for diaphragmatic and pursed-lip breathing. (5)
How to perform pursed-lip breathing:
- Relax your neck and shoulder muscles.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose for 2 counts while keeping your mouth closed.
- Purse your lips as if you’re going to whistle or blow out a candle.
- Breathe out slowly through your pursed lips for 4 counts.
- Repeat steps 2–4 for several breaths.
How to perform diaphragmatic breathing:
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, just below your ribcage.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your belly to expand as you breathe in.
- Pause for a second or two at the end of your inhale.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth, gently contracting your abdominal muscles and pushing out all the air from your lungs.
- Repeat this cycle, inhaling deeply through your nose, pausing for a second or two, and exhaling slowly through your mouth.
- Focus on your breath and try to relax your body as much as possible while you breathe.
What Causes Wheezing?
The common factors that may lead to wheezing include: (1)
- Respiratory infections
- Obstructive airway diseases
- Congestive heart failure
- Vocal cord dysfunction
- Postnasal drip
- Airway compression
- Carcinoid tumors
- Foreign body inhalation
- Forced exhalation
Management of Wheezing at Night
Wheezing at night is mainly due to underlying issues such as asthma. Poorly controlled asthma often leads to nighttime bronchial asthma attacks, which can be very distressing for patients.
Adults with asthma may experience asthma-related difficulties up to three to four times a week, with bothersome symptoms that include wheezing. It is reported that around 61% of patients with asthma experience nighttime asthma symptoms.
Sleeping in a supine position
A study showed that patients with asthma experienced a reduction in symptoms just 30 minutes after a supine sleeping position was assumed, as well as wheezing was managed after 90 minutes as per research.
A supine sleep position can effectively reduce asthma symptoms and night awakenings, decrease the need for medication, and improve the condition of patients with asthma.
This simple approach can be easily adopted by any patient with asthma as a treatment and preventative measure against symptoms such as wheezing without the need for additional resources. (6)
How to sleep in a supine position:
- Lie on your back on a flat surface such as a bed or a yoga mat.
- Place a pillow under your head to support your neck.
- Place another pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees to support your lower back.
- Keep your arms straight by your sides or rest them on your abdomen.
- Relax your entire body and try to breathe deeply and slowly.
- If you feel uncomfortable or have trouble breathing, adjust the position of the pillows.
Prevention and Management of Wheezing Via Lifestyle Interventions
1. Say no to smoking
Smoking is a big no-no if you wish to live healthily. Smoking causes a variety of health difficulties and is also a risk factor for wheezing.
A study shows that kids who are exposed to tobacco or cigarette smoke end up having a heightened threat of acquiring wheezing syndrome. This risk of wheezing further grows with the increase in the number of cigarettes smoked in their house.
Research also puts forth the findings that cases of maternal smoking showcase higher cases of wheezing in children. In homes where the father was the only smoker, the possibility of developing wheezing syndrome was lower but still substantial.
So, it becomes your responsibility to quit smoking not only for your own good but also for the benefit of your loved ones like your kids. (7)
2. Eliminate environmental risks
Doctors advise the maintenance of a healthy environment at home by addressing fixable risk factors of respiratory problems such as:
- Tobacco smoke
- Indoor allergens
- Smoke from burning
- Cooking without exhaust
- Animal dander or hair
- House dust
- Cold and dry weather
- Mite exposure
- Improving air quality at home by examining the various factors that may trigger wheezing is, therefore, important. (8)
The Medication Station for Wheezing
Several medicines are available and given to patients to treat acute symptoms of respiratory disorders including wheezing.
Note: Before starting any medicine, especially steroids or antibiotics, first consult a healthcare professional. Do not start therapy without a doctor’s advice.
Here are some common medicines for wheezing.
Bronchodilators have been found to be more effective than placebos in treating wheezing. They have become the first-line therapy (the first thing doctors will try) for wheezing.
If your condition is mild, bronchodilators through an inhaler are the best options. However, a nebulizer is also a possible route for delivering this medication. (9)
Note: If the wheezing is moderate or severe, the patient should be directed to a healthcare professional or a hospital for further control and treatment.
Steroids can be inhaled or taken orally for wheezing.
Inhaled steroids come in use to treat recurrent wheezing. This therapy is effective in late-onset wheezing (wheezing that occurs late in life). It is not as useful in patients with temporary wheezing or viral-induced wheezing. Systemic (orally taken) steroids are also an option to treat wheezing.
Montelukast, a popular anti-allergic drug, is thought to be useful in dealing with viral-induced wheezing. However, according to studies, such drugs are only weak options for treatment and are thus advised for managing symptoms associated with allergic reactions such as chest tightness and coughing, but you should not completely depend on it. If symptoms and problem still persist, then contact your doctor.
Another commonly used anti-allergic drug is antihistamines. Researchers concluded that patients treated with antihistamines as an add-on to their bronchodilation medicine were 2.4 times more likely to decrease their bronchodilator treatment. (13)(14)
As viruses remain the primary cause of diseases of the respiratory system, the use of antibiotics may not be properly justified. However, drugs such as azithromycin may be useful in children with extreme cases of wheezing, according to studies.
Note: Antibiotics should only be taken on professional advice.
Prevention of Wheezing in Newborns
If you’re pregnant and expecting, here are a few measures that you should take to lower the risk of your child suffering from wheezing chest. (1)
- Low levels of vitamin D in mothers during late pregnancy are associated with the development of wheezing and atopy in the child.
- If the expecting mother is obese, there is a general risk for respiratory morbidity in the child.
- It has been proposed that decreased levels of maternal iron during pregnancy are linked with childhood wheezing.
So, it is important to talk to a doctor to ensure that you are taking the right supplements and prevent low levels of the required nutrients. Also, maintain a healthy weight to prevent wheezing in your baby.
When to See a Doctor
Wheezing, which occurs when you exhale and is associated with a temporary illness, isn’t something you need to see a doctor for. However, if you suffer from a chronic respiratory disease and hear some wheezing, you may need to seek professional advice.
You should also see a doctor if your wheezing is new and unexplained or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms.
Most-Asked Questions About Wheezing
Does wheezing indicate asthma?
The presence of wheezing does not invariably imply that you suffer from asthma. A thorough evaluation of your medical history and physical examination are needed to confirm the diagnosis. (1)
What is the mechanism behind wheezing?
Wheezes are believed to be the outcome of vibrations of narrowed walls of the respiratory tract, which cause a decrease in airflow velocity. The important aspects to study the severity of wheezing are the amplitude/loudness of the wheeze, duration of the wheeze, and intensity of the wheeze.
Can I hear someone wheezing?
Wheezes may be heard without the help of a stethoscope when it is loud enough, but in the majority of cases, wheezes are heard with a stethoscope.
How do I know if my wheezing is serious?
If wheezing is accompanied by significant shortness of breath, bluish skin, confusion, or mental status changes, it may indicate a serious medical condition, and you should see a healthcare professional. (17)
Can wheezing go away on its own?
Wheezing due to a mild illness or cold will eventually go away by itself as the illness resolves. Also, if a child wheezes only with viral infections and during their first 2 years of life and has no personal or family history of allergies, then the wheezing is likely to go away by the time they start school. (18)
Is wheezing at night serious?
Experts explain how wheezing at night can be a symptom of a variety of respiratory conditions and can range from mild to severe. Additionally, if the wheezing is severe enough to disturb sleep or if it occurs frequently, it can lead to fatigue and other complications.
Therefore, it is important to go to a healthcare professional for advice if you’re experiencing wheezing at night to make sure nothing serious is going on.
Wheezing occurs because of the narrowing of your airways. It usually is a response to a disease or an underlying ailment. It’s crucial to stay in touch with a healthcare professional if you experience wheezing because it can imply a breathing problem.
Once you have developed a therapy strategy with your doctor, you can start employing home remedies as an adjuvant treatment to lessen your wheezing.