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Wheezing

Wheezing

Definition

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound associated with labored breathing.

Description

Wheezing occurs when a person tries to breathe deeply through air passages (bronchia) that are narrowed because of muscle contractions or filled with mucus as a result of: allergy, infection, illness, or irritation. Wheezing is experienced by 10-15% of the population.

Wheezing most commonly occurs when a person is exhaling. It is sometimes accompanied by a mild sensation of tightness in the chest. Anxiety about not being able to breathe easily can cause muscle tension that makes the wheezing worse.

Causes & symptoms

Wheezing is the symptom most associated with asthma . It can be aggravated by dry air and high altitude. A 2001 study also found a connection between nighttime wheezing/asthma and gastroesophageal reflux, or the flow of stomach acid backward into the lower part of the esophagus. Wheezing can be caused by:

  • exposure to allergens (food, pollen, and other substances that cause a person to have an allergic reaction)
  • fumes
  • ice-cold drinks, or very cold air
  • medication
  • strenuous exercise
  • weather changes
  • foreign objects trapped in the airway
  • cystic fibrosis and other genetic disorders
  • respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, bronchitis , congestive heart failure, and emphysema

The symptoms of wheezing are: labored breathing, whistling sound upon breathing, shortness of breath, and a tight or heavy feeling in the chest.

Medical emergencies

Breathing problems can be life-threatening. Immediate medical attention is required whenever a person:

  • turns blue or gray and stops breathing
  • becomes extremely short of breath, and is unable to speak
  • coughs up bubbly pink or white phlegm
  • seems to be suffocating
  • develops a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • wheezes most of the time, and coughs up gray or greenish phlegm

Diagnosis

A family physician, allergist, or pulmonary specialist takes a medical history that includes questions about allergies , or unexplained symptoms that may be the result of allergic reactions. If the pattern of the patient's symptoms suggests the existence of allergy, skin and blood tests are performed to identify the precise nature of the problem.

A pulmonary function test may be ordered to measure the amount of air moving through the patient's breathing passages. X rays are sometimes indicated for patients whose wheezing seems to be caused by chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

Treatment

Patients whose wheezing is related to asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or a severe allergic reaction may benefit from alternative medicine but they must continue to have their condition monitored by a conventional physician.

Mild wheezing may be relieved by drinking plenty of juice, water, weak tea, and broth. This helps to replace fluids lost because of rapid breathing and loosen mucus in the air passages. Ice-cold drinks should be avoided. A vaporizer can help clear air passages. A steam tent, created by lowering the face toward a sink filled with hot water, placing a towel over the head and sink, and inhaling the steam, can do likewise.

Herbal remedies

Several herbal remedies exist for the treatment of wheezing and asthma.

  • Baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis ) decoction relieves wheezing.
  • Coltsfoot tea may relieve wheezing.
  • Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus ) tincture eases breathing.
  • Elecampane (Inula helenium ) can help to clear mucus.
  • Garlic (Allium sativum ) can ease asthma symptoms.
  • German chamomile (Chamomilla recutita ) infusion can relieve wheezing.
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba ) eases asthma symptoms.
  • Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis ) root eases asthma symptoms.
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus ) tea in a vaporizer relieves wheezing.
  • Nettle (Urtica dioca ) infusion relieves wheezing.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata ) relaxes muscle spasms leading to a reduction in wheezing.
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ) infusion relieves wheezing.

Ayurvedic treatment

Wheezing can be alleviated by drinking licorice tea. The tea is prepared by steeping one teaspoon of licorice (Yashti madbu ) root in one cup of water, adding 5-10 drops of mahanarayan oil just before drinking. The patient should take one sip every 5-10 minutes. A remedy for breathlessness is a mixture of onion juice (one quarter cup), black pepper (0.125 tsp), and honey (1 tsp).

Mustard seeds have bronchial system healing properties. Brown mustard oil may be massaged onto the chest. A mustard tea (one quarter teaspoon each ground mustard seed and pippali or black pepper) with honey may be drunk two or three times daily or sipped throughout the day. Another mustard remedy is taking brown mustard oil (1 tsp) with natural sugar (1 tsp) two or three times daily.

Homeopathy

Homeopathic remedies are chosen for each patient based on his or her pattern of symptoms. Arsenicum is indicated for patients who experience restlessness, fearfulness, wheezing, and shortness of breath between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. Spongia is recommended for those who have dry wheezing, which may occur as the patient is falling asleep, a feeling of suffocation, and a dry cough . Lobelia is for patients with chest tightness and wheezing that is worsened in cold air. Sambucus is indicated for persons whose wheezing is worsened after midnight, but who don't experience the fear or restlessness experienced by an arsenicum patient. Pulsatilla is recommended for those who are affectionate, and feel stifled in warm rooms. Ipecac is for patients who have a lot of phlegm in the lungs (wheezing is accompanied by rattling sounds in the chest), coughing, and possibly vomiting . Bryonia is for patients with dry wheezing, who feel warm and thirsty, and whose symptoms are worsened by motion.

Other remedies

Other treatments for wheezing include:

  • Aromatherapy. The essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus , and rosemary can relieve congestion. Adding German chamomile essential oil to a vaporizer can relieve wheezing.
  • Diet. Eliminating red meat, and wheat and dairy products and following a macrobiotic diet of vegetarian foods may relieve asthma symptoms.
  • Relaxation techniques. Because anxiety can worsen an asthma attack, and therefore wheezing, meditation, biofeedback , deep breathing, or other stress-reduction methods may help promote relaxation.
  • Supplements. Magnesium may help to prevent bronchial spasms. The frequency of asthma attacks may be reduced by taking vitamin C and the B complex vitamins.
  • Yoga . Certain yoga positions (Bridge, Cobra, Pigeon, and Sphinx) may relieve wheezing by improving breathing control and reducing stress.

Allopathic treatment

Bronchodilators (medications that help widen narrowed airways) may be prescribed for patients whose wheezing is the result of asthma. Antibiotics are generally used to cure acute bronchitis and other respiratory infections . Expectorants (cough-producing medications) or bronchodilators are prescribed to remove excess mucus from the breathing passages. If wheezing is caused by an allergic reaction, antihistamines will probably be prescribed to neutralize body chemicals that react to the allergen.

A new type of drug was being tested in late 2001 that blocks immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody produced in excessive levels in patients with hay fever . The drug also appears to prevent asthma in patients with chronic hay fever. The drug, called omalizumab, is the first in a new line of drugs expected to appear in the next few years.

If wheezing and asthma symptoms worsen in the nighttime, diagnosis and treatment of possible acid reflux in the stomach might ease symptoms.

Expected results

Mild wheezing caused by infection or acute illness usually disappears when the underlying cause is eliminated.

Some doctors believe that childhood respiratory infections may activate parts of the immune system that prevent asthma from developing.

Prevention

Stopping smoking can eliminate wheezing; so can reducing or preventing exposure to allergens or conditions that cause wheezing.

A person prone to wheezing should wear a scarf or surgical mask over the nose and mouth during physical exertion outdoors during cold weather. Likewise, wearing a surgical mask outdoors during the allergy season is helpful for persons whose wheezing is triggered by allergies.

Licorice root tea may prevent asthma (wheezing) attacks. Ayurvedic herbal remedies to prevent asthma symptoms include:

  • cinnamon (1 tsp) and trikatu (0.25 tsp) tea with honey twice daily
  • licorice and ginger (0.25 tsp each) tea
  • bay leaf (0.5 tsp) and pippali (0.25 tsp) mixed in honey taken two or three times daily
  • sitopaladi (0.5 tsp), punarnova (0.5 tsp), pippali (pinch), and abrak bhasma (pinch) mixed with honey taken once daily
  • spinach juice (0.125 cup) and pippali (pinch) taken twice daily

Resources

BOOKS

Cummings, Stephen and Dana Ullman. Everybody's Guide to Homeopathic Medicines: Safe and Effective Remedies for You and Your Family. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997.

The Editors of Time-Life Books. The Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative and Conventional Therapies. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1996.

Lad, Vasant D. The Compete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. New York: Harmony Books, 1998.

PERIODICALS

Avidan, B., et al. "Temporal Associations Between Coughing or Wheezing and Acid Reflux in Asthmatics." Gut (December 2001):767.

Blanc, Paul D., et al. "Alternative Therapies Among Adults with a Reported Diagnosis of Asthma or Rhinosinusitis: Data from a Population-Based Survey." Chest (November 2001): 1461.

Lanctot, Denise. "Case of the Out-Of-Control Wheeze." Prevention 48 (April 1996): 124+.

Langer, Stephen and Patricia Andersen-Parrado. "Stifling allergies." Better Nutrition 61 (April 1999): 44+.

Plaut, Marshall. "Immune-Based, Tageted Therapy for Allergic Diseases." JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. (December 19, 2001):3005.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Lung Association. 1740 Broadway, New York, NY 10019-4374. (800) 586-4872. http://www.lungusa.org.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. (800) 7-ASTHMA.

OTHER

"Kids in Daycare Three Times as Likely to Have Wheezing Illnesses." http://www.lungusa.org/footer.html (16 May 1998).

"Wheezing." http://www.mcare2.org/healthtips/homecare/wheezing.htm (16 May 1998).

"Wheezing." http://www.onhealth.com/bu/cond/ailments/htm/wheezing/htm (17 May 1998).

Belinda Rowland

Teresa Norris

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Wheezing

Wheezing

Definition

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound associated with labored breathing.

Description

Wheezing occurs when a child or adult tries to breathe deeply through air passages that are narrowed or filled with mucus as a result of:

  • allergy
  • infection
  • illness
  • irritation

Wheezing is most common when exhaling. It is sometimes accompanied by a mild sensation of tightness in the chest. Anxiety about not being able to breathe easily can cause muscle tension that makes matters worse.

Causes and symptoms

Wheezing is the symptom most associated with asthma. It can be caused by:

  • exposure to allergens (food, pollen, and other substances, that cause a person to have an allergic reaction)
  • fumes
  • ice-cold drinks, or very cold air
  • medication
  • strenuous exercise
  • weather changes
  • foreign objects trapped in the airway
  • cystic fibrosis, and other genetic disorders
  • respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis, congestive heart failure, and emphysema

Diagnosis

A family physician, allergist, or pulmonary specialist takes a medical history that includes questions about allergies, or unexplained symptoms that may be the result of allergic reactions. If the pattern of the patient's symptoms suggests the presence of allergy, skin and blood tests are performed to identify the precise nature of the problem.

A pulmonary function test may be ordered to measure the amount of air moving through the patient's breathing passages. X rays are sometimes indicated for patients whose wheezing seems to be caused by chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

In 2004, researchers in Japan discovered a new method for diagnosing asthma in infants by testing for certain antibodies in their sputum (mucus that spits up from the bronchi).

Treatment

Mild wheezing may be relieved by drinking plenty of juice, water, weak tea, and broth. Ice-cold drinks should be avoided.

A vaporizer can help clear air passages. A steam tent, created by lowering the face toward a sink filled with hot water, placing a towel over the head and sink, and inhaling the steam, can do likewise.

Bronchodilators (medications that help widen narrowed airways) may be prescribed for patients whose wheezing is the result of asthma. Newer asthma medications taken daily can help prevent asthma attacks, as can avoiding asthma and allergy triggers.

Antibiotics are generally used to cure acute bronchitis and other respiratory infections. Expectorants cough-producing medications) or certain bronchodilators are prescribed to remove excess mucus from the breathing passages.

If wheezing is caused by an allergic reaction, antihistamines will probably be prescribed to neutralize body chemicals that react to the allergen.

Medical emergencies

Breathing problems can be life-threatening. Immediate medical attention is required whenever an individual:

  • turns blue or gray and stops breathing
  • becomes extremely short of breath, and is unable to speak
  • coughs up bubbly-pink or white phlegm
  • seems to be suffocating
  • develops a fever of 101°F (38.3°C) or higher
  • wheezes most of the time, and coughs up gray or greenish phlegm

Alternative treatment

Certain yoga positions (Bridge, Cobra, Pigeon, and Sphinx) may relieve wheezing by improving breathing control and reducing stress. Patients whose wheezing is related to asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or a severe allergic reaction may benefit from these techniques, but must continue to have their condition monitored by a conventional physician.

Prognosis

Mild wheezing caused by infection or acute illness usually disappears when the underlying cause is eliminated.

Some doctors believe that childhood respiratory infections may activate parts of the immune system that prevent asthma from developing.

Prevention

Stopping smoking can eliminate wheezing. So can reducing or preventing exposure to other substances that cause the problem.

Resources

PERIODICALS

"Creola Bodies in Wheezing Infants Predict Asthma Development." Immunotherapy Weekly July 7, 2004: 10.

"WhatÆs New in: Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis." Pulse September 20, 2004: 50.

"Wheezing? Check Your Inhaler." Prevention September 2004: 34.

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wheeze

wheeze / (h)wēz/ • v. [intr.] (of a person) breathe with a whistling or rattling sound in the chest, as a result of obstruction in the air passages: the illness often leaves her wheezing. ∎  [tr.] utter with such a sound: he could barely wheeze out his pleas for a handout | [with direct speech] “Don't worry son,” he wheezed. ∎  [intr.] walk or move slowly with such a sound: she wheezed up the hill toward them. ∎  (of a device) make an irregular rattling or spluttering sound: the engine coughed, wheezed, and shrieked into life. • n. [usu. in sing.] a sound of or as of a person wheezing: I talk with a wheeze. DERIVATIVES: wheez·er n.wheez·ing·ly adv.

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wheeze

wheeze (weez) n. an abnormal high-pitched (sibilant) or low-pitched sound that is heard mainly during expiration. Wheezes occur as a result of narrowing of the airways, such as results from bronchospasm or increased secretion and retention of sputum; they are commonly heard in patients with asthma or chronic bronchitis. Compare stridor.

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wheeze

wheeze breathe hard with a whistling sound. XV. prob. — ON. hvǽsa hiss; or imit.

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wheeze

wheezeAchinese, Ambonese, appease, Assamese, Balinese, Belize, Beninese, Bernese, bêtise, Bhutanese, breeze, Burmese, Cantonese, Castries, cerise, cheese, chemise, Chinese, Cingalese, Cleese, Congolese, Denise, Dodecanese, ease, éminence grise, expertise, Faroese, freeze, Fries, frieze, Gabonese, Genoese, Goanese, Guyanese, he's, Japanese, Javanese, jeez, journalese, Kanarese, Keys, Lebanese, lees, legalese, Louise, Macanese, Madurese, Maltese, marquise, Milanese, Nepalese, Nipponese, officialese, overseas, pease, Pekinese, Peloponnese, Piedmontese, please, Portuguese, Pyrenees, reprise, Rwandese, seise, seize, Senegalese, she's, Siamese, Sienese, Sikkimese, Sinhalese, sleaze, sneeze, squeeze, Stockton-on-Tees, Sudanese, Sundanese, Surinamese, Tabriz, Taiwanese, tease, Tees, telegraphese, these, Timorese, Togolese, trapeze, valise, Viennese, Vietnamese, vocalese, wheeze •superficies • Héloïse • Averroës •rabies • pubes • Maccabees •headcheese

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