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Wheezing is labored breathing characterized by a high-pitched whistling sound and accompanied by some tightness in the chest. Wheezing is a symptom of restricted lower respiratory passages that arise from any of a number of conditions, including allergies, illness or irritation and respiratory ailments such as bronchitis or asthma. Any case of sudden wheezing, especially if it gets worse or if it comes with other symptoms, should be brought to the immediate attention of a doctor as it might be life-threatening.

What causes wheezing?

Wheezing is most commonly associated with allergies and allergy-related respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis. An allergy is the body’s abnormal reaction to a substance that ordinarily doesn’t irritate or cause problems for most people. The substance, referred to as an allergen, can be anything from dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander, perfume or even food. Allergens can irritate the lower and upper respiratory tract, triggering reactions such as wheezing, sneezing, teary eyes or coughing.

Asthma and bronchitis are both respiratory ailments that are also characterized by wheezing and difficulty in breathing. In most cases, the wheezing is triggered by allergens or irritants. In bronchitis, if the wheezing is accompanied by high fever, the ailment is diagnosed as a viral infection.

Other triggers for wheezing are medication, changes in temperature or weather/climate, genetic disorders and strenuous exercise.

What are the symptoms of wheezing?

Wheezing is marked by difficult and rapid breathing, a whistling sound particularly upon exhalation, and a tight feeling in the chest.

How is wheezing diagnosed?

A doctor or pulmonary specialist will take the patient’s medical history, including episodes of allergies or other related symptoms, zeroing in on when these symptoms occur and what may have possibly triggered them. The doctor will analyze if any pattern suggests an allergy, and based on his evaluation, may recommend further tests to determine the problem. These tests may be in the form of skin or blood test, x-rays, or a pulmonary function test that determines how much air circulates through the patient’s respiratory passages.

How can wheezing be treated or prevented?

Wheezing associated with an allergy or asthma and bronchitis is treated or prevented by reducing exposure to allergens and through a range of medical and alternative remedies as well as lifestyle changes. These include drinking plenty of liquids, using a vaporizer, avoiding exposure to extreme changes in temperature, stopping smoking, taking antibiotics and/or expectorants, taking supplements or herbal tonics, eliminating or reducing intake of red meat, wheat and dairy products, and learning relaxation and breathing techniques.

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