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Name of Symptom/Sign:
Classifications and external resources
ICD-10 R06.2
ICD-9 786.07

A wheeze is a continuous, coarse, whistling sound produced in the respiratory airways during breathing. For wheezes to occur, some part of the respiratory tree must be narrowed or obstructed, or airflow velocity within the respiratory tree must be heightened. Wheezing is commonly experienced by persons with a lung disease; the most common cause of recurrent wheezing is asthma, a form of reactive airway disease.

The differential diagnosis of wheezing is wide, and the cause of wheezing in a given patient is determined by considering the characteristics of the wheezes and the historical and clinical findings made by the examining physician.


The causes of wheezing

  Common causes of wheezing are:

Less common causes of wheezing include:


Wheezes occupy different portions of the respiratory cycle depending on the site of airway obstruction and its nature. The proportion of the respiratory cycle occupied by the wheeze roughly corresponds to the degree of airway obstruction.1,2 Bronchiolar disease usually causes wheezing that occurs in the expiratory phase of respiration. The presence of expiratory phase wheezing signifies that the patient's peak expiratory flow rate is less than 50% of normal.3 Wheezing heard in the inspiratory phase on the other hand is often a sign of a stiff stenosis, usually caused by tumors, foreign bodies or scarring. This is especially true if the wheeze is monotonal, occurs throughout the inspiratory phase (ie. is "holoinspiratory"), and is heard more distally, in the trachea. Inspiratory wheezing also occurs in hypersensitivity pneumonitis.4 Wheezes heard at the end of both expiratory and inspiratory phases usually signify the periodic opening of deflated alveoli, as occurs in some diseases that lead to collapse of parts of the lungs.

The location of the wheeze can also be an important clue to the diagnosis. Diffuse processes that affect most parts of the lungs are more likely to produce wheezing that may be heard throughout the chest via a stethoscope. Localized processes, such as the occlusion of a portion of the respiratory tree, are more likely to produce wheezing at that location, whence the sound will be loudest and radiate outwardly. The pitch of a wheeze does not reliably predict the degree of narrowing in the affected airway.5

Wheezing can also occur in people who are not in shape. Wheezing is not a severe problem. The more often you run, the easier breathing gets.[citation needed]

A special type of wheeze is stridor. Stridor — the word is from the Latin, strīdor6 — is a harsh, high-pitched, vibrating sound that is heard in respiratory tract obstruction. Stridor heard solely in the expiratory phase of respiration usually indicates a lower respiratory tract obstruction, "as with aspiration of a foreign body (such as the fabled pediatric peanut)."7 Stridor in the inspiratory phase is usually heard with obstruction in the upper airways, such as the trachea, epiglottis, or larynx; because a block here means that no air may reach either lung, this condition is a medical emergency.

See also


1 Baughman RP, Loudon RG. Quantitation of wheezing in acute asthma. Chest. 1984;86:718–722. PMID 6488909
2 Pasterkamp H, Asher T, Leahy F, et al. The effect of anticholinergic treatment on postexertional wheezing in asthma studied by phonopneumography and spirometry. Am Rev Respir Dis. 1985;132:16–21. PMID 3160273
3 Shim CS, Williams MH. Relationship of wheezing to the severity of obstruction in asthma. Arch Intern Med. 1983;143:890–892. PMID 6679232
4 Earis J, Marsh K, Pearson M, et al. The inspiratory squawk in extrinsic allergic alveolitis and other pulmonary fibrosis. Thorax. 1982;37:923–926. PMID 7170682
5 Meslier N, Charbonneau G, Racineux JL. Wheezes. Eur Respir J. 1995;8(11):1942-8. PMID 8620967
6 Simpson JA, Weiner ESC (eds). "stridor, n. 2." Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. OED Online Oxford University Press. Accessed September 10, 2005.
7 Orient JM. Sapira's Art & Science of Bedside Diagnosis 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott William Wilkins, 2000. ISBN 0-683-30714-2
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wheeze". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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