If you’ve ever heard a whistle while breathing, it is called wheezing. Wheezing often sounds like a high-pitched whistle and mostly occurs when a person exhales (exhales), although it can sometimes be heard while inhaling (inhaling).
Wheezing occurs as a result of inflammation, which leads to the narrowing of the airways. Home remedies like good food, hydrotherapy, and breathing exercises can help reduce wheezing.
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What causes wheezing?
Wheezing is typically caused by narrowing of the small bronchi in the chest or by a blockage (blockage) in the bronchi or larger airways and vocal cords.
Wheezing is most common in people with chronic (long-term) illnesses such as: asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)causing the bronchial airways to narrow and cramp up. Other common causes of wheezing include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Heart failure
- Lung cancer
- Drugs (i.e. aspirin)
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- lung infection
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV): Most common in infants and young children
- Respiratory infection
In some cases, the wheezing can be caused by excess mucus in the airways. Coughing violently two or three times can loosen the mucus and dissolve the wheezing noises.
The most obvious symptom of wheezing is the high pitched whistling that occurs when a person breathes – it is most commonly heard while exhaling. The wheezing may also be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause, including:
- Chest pain
- to cough
- Difficulty breathing
- Laryngitis (hoarseness)
- Rattling secretions in the throat
- shortness of breath
- Stuffy or runny nose
Wheezing can also occur in people who are experiencing an anaphylactic (severe allergic) reaction to something (e.g., food, insect bite, medication). If you have difficulty breathing due to anaphylaxis, see a doctor immediately (call 911).
In hydrotherapy (water therapy), water is used for health purposes. Hydrotherapy is one of the most basic and widely used methods of treating a number of conditions, including wheezing. Hydrotherapy options for treating wheezing include:
- drinking water: Moisturizing your airways with plenty of water can help prevent dehydration, which can make wheezing worse.
- humidifier: Wheezing may worsen when breathing dry air. Having a humidifier in the room can help moisturize the airways and release congestion to improve wheezing.
- Hot shower: Humid air while showering can loosen the airways and reduce wheezing.
- to drink tea: Hot drinks like tea can relieve congestion and loosen the airways.
- Steam inhaler: Inhaling warm, moist air can help clear your sinuses and open narrowed airways.
Eating a healthy diet can improve many aspects of your health and wellbeing. Diet and nutrition are increasingly recognized as options for protecting the airway and reducing the symptoms of long-term conditions that cause wheezing. Eating foods high in the following nutrients can help reduce or even eliminate wheezing.
Vitamin C has been thoroughly researched for its respiratory benefits, including reducing wheezing. Studies show that eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C – citrus fruits, peppers, tomatoes, berries, broccoli, and spinach – can reduce wheezing and have positive effects on lung health.
While vitamin C supplements can be helpful, most research shows that consuming foods rich in this powerful antioxidant nutrient is more beneficial.
Several studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is linked to asthma, a common cause of wheezing. Foods rich in vitamin D include red meat, dairy products, and oily fish (e.g. salmon). You can also increase your vitamin D levels by spending time outside in the sun.
Further research is needed to determine the optimal dose of vitamin D for different population groups (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity) and to determine whether vitamin D supplementation is as helpful as consuming nutrient-rich foods.
Research shows that vitamin E has several antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation in the airways, as well as mucus, which can cause or contribute to shortness of breath in those with asthma. Almonds, red peppers, peanut butter, pumpkin, spinach and sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E.
Research shows that ginger can help relax the smooth muscles of the airways and reduce constriction and wheezing. Fresh ginger contains compounds that can help fight off viruses that affect the airways.
One study found that ginger extracts can help control asthma by having positive effects on cells in the airways. Try making a fresh ginger tea to help loosen and moisturize your airways and reduce wheezing.
How Aerobic Exercise Can Improve Your Heart Health Breathing exercises can have a positive effect on your lung health and function. Breathing techniques can strengthen your lung capacity, make your lungs more efficient, and reduce wheezing.
Although these exercises may seem simple, they can take some practice to master. Practice when your breathing is comfortable so that you can turn to it when your wheezing increases or you experience shortness of breath.
Haunted lip breathing
Tracked lip breathing is a technique that slows the rate of breathing, keeps the airway open longer, and makes each breath more effective. As you breathe more efficiently, the shortness of breath should decrease.
- Inhale through your nose for two to four seconds.
- Cleanse your lips and breathe out through your mouth for at least twice as long (four to eight seconds).
- Repeat this exercise several times until your breathing becomes more comfortable.
It is likely that your wheezing will improve or even decrease after you pursue your pursed-lip breathing.
The inability to fully exhale is common in people with asthma. Research shows that Yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) Improving lung function in people with asthma, which can reduce wheezing.
- Lie on your back with your eyes closed.
- Inhale calmly through your nose until your lungs are full.
- Hold your breath one or two times, then narrow some of the breath in your throat and slowly exhale through your nose until you feel as if you have exhaled completely.
- Pause for two seconds and repeat up to 20 times.
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are a popular option for many because of their affordability and availability (no prescription required). If you’re looking to try over-the-counter medications to improve your wheezing, consider the following:
Primatene Mist – an FDA-approved over-the-counter inhaler – is a bronchodilator that temporarily relieves intermittent symptoms of asthma. The mist contains adrenaline, which relieves wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.
Antihistamines are particularly helpful for allergy sufferers. Many are available over the counter in tablet, capsule, liquid gel, eye drop, and nasal spray form. Common antihistamines include Allegra (fexofenadine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Claritin (loratadine), and Zyrtec (cetirizine).
Sucking on Cough drops or candy can help soothe irritated and inflamed airways. Remember, cough drops can temporarily reduce a wheezing cough, but are not a long-term remedy. Suck on a cough drop every two to three hours for relief.
Whenever possible, avoid triggers that make your wheezing worse, including:
Cold, dry air
Cold, dry air can narrow the airways and cause irritation to the airways, which can lead to coughing, worsening wheezing, and worsening breathing difficulties.
Smoking or vaping
Smoking and vaping are known to have negative effects on lung health and breathing. A study published in 2020 shows that smoking and vaping (with e-cigarettes) are strongly linked to increases in wheezing and other breathing difficulties. Talk to your doctor to discuss smoking cessation options.
Allergies can make breathing worse, especially in those with asthma or COPD. Common allergy symptoms are a runny nose, cough, itchy eyes, and easy wheezing. If you have seasonal allergies, consider taking antihistamines to relieve your allergy symptoms.
Use an air purifier
Some conditions that cause wheezing can worsen if the environment is polluted or there are allergens in the air. A air cleaner in your home can reduce the number of airborne irritants that can cause wheezing.
A word from Verywell
Wheezing and other related symptoms like shortness of breath can be a troubling experience. For most people, wheezing is a temporary situation caused by illness, irritation, or an underlying health condition.
If you suffer from wheezing, it is important to see your doctor as it may be an indication of an underlying health problem, such as asthma. Once you’ve discussed a treatment plan with your doctor, home remedies can be an excellent option to improve your breathing and reduce wheezing.