Wheezing

For children under 12, see chart 46

Wheezing, a whistling or rasping sound on exhaling, occurs when the air passages become narrowed. Narrowing may be caused by inflammation due to infection, asthma, or inhaled dust, or, in rare cases, may be due to a tumour. If you have persistent wheezing, you should see your doctor.

  • Has the wheezing come on suddenly within the past few hours or gradually over days or weeks?

    • Sudden onset

      Do you have either of the following symptoms?

      • Frothy pink or white sputum
        • Possible cause There is a possibility of fluid on the lungs (see Acute heart failure).

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

      • Waking at night feeling breathless
        • Possible cause There is a possibility of fluid on the lungs (see Acute heart failure).

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

      • Neither

        Are you short of breath?

        • Short of breath
          • Possible cause You could be having an attack of asthma.

            Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

        • Not short of breath
          • Possible cause A mild asthma attack (see Asthma) is the most likely cause of wheezing without shortness of breath.

            Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

    • Gradual onset

      Do you have a fever – a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above?

      • Fever
        • Possible cause Acute bronchitis is a possible cause.

          Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

      • No fever

        Do you cough up sputum?

        • Most days
        • Seldom or never
          • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your wheezing from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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