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Other names: Sibilant rhonchi
The sound of wheezing as heard with a stethoscope
Causesvirus, bacteria, common cold, allergy, pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis

A wheeze is a continuous, coarse, whistling sound produced in the respiratory airways during breathing.[1] Wheezing is commonly experienced by persons with a lung disease; asthma, vocal cord dysfunction, bronchiolitis and COPD.[2]

For wheezes to occur, some part of the respiratory tree must be narrowed or obstructed (for example narrowing of the lower respiratory tract in an asthmatic attack).[2]



Wheezes occupy different portions of the respiratory cycle depending on the site of airway obstruction and its nature. The fraction of the respiratory cycle during which a wheeze is produced roughly corresponds to the degree of airway obstruction.[3][4] Bronchiolar disease usually causes wheezing that occurs in the expiratory phase of respiration. As a rule, extrathoracic airway obstruction produce inspiratory sounds. Intrathoracic major airway obstruction produces inspiratory as well as expiratory sounds. Distal airway obstruction predominantly produces expiratory sounds.[5]

The presence of expiratory phase wheezing signifies that the patient's peak expiratory flow rate is less than 50% of normal.[6] 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 (i.e. is "holoinspiratory"), and is heard more proximally, in the trachea. Inspiratory wheezing also occurs in hypersensitivity pneumonitis.[7] 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, hence 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.[8]


A special type of wheeze is stridor. Stridor — the word is from the Latin, strīdor[9] — is a harsh, high-pitched, vibrating sound that is heard in respiratory tract obstruction. Stridor heard solely in the inspiratory phase of respiration usually indicates an upper respiratory tract obstruction, "as with aspiration of a foreign body (such as the fabled pediatric peanut)."[10] 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. Biphasic stridor (occurring during both the inspiratory and expiratory phases) indicates narrowing at the level of the glottis or subglottis, the point between the upper and lower airways.

See also


  1. Sengupta, Nandini; Sahidullah, Md; Saha, Goutam (August 2016). "Lung sound classification using cepstral-based statistical features". Computers in Biology and Medicine. 75 (1): 118–129. doi:10.1016/j.compbiomed.2016.05.013. PMID 27286184.
  2. 2.0 2.1 White, Veronica; Ruperelia, Prina (2020). "28.Respiratory disease". In Feather, Adam; Randall, David; Waterhouse, Mona (eds.). Kumar and Clark's Clinical Medicine (10th ed.). Elsevier. p. 937. ISBN 978-0-7020-7870-5. Archived from the original on 2022-05-04. Retrieved 2022-05-03.
  3. Baughman RP, Loudon RG (Nov 1984). "Quantitation of wheezing in acute asthma". Chest. 86 (5): 718–22. doi:10.1378/chest.86.5.718. PMID 6488909.
  4. Pasterkamp H, Tal A, Leahy F, Fenton R, Chernick V (Jul 1985). "The effect of anticholinergic treatment on postexertional wheezing in asthma studied by phonopneumography and spirometry". The American Review of Respiratory Disease. 132 (1): 16–21. doi:10.1164/arrd.1985.132.1.16 (inactive 28 February 2022). PMID 3160273.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of February 2022 (link)
  5. Ghai, OP (2014). Essential Pediatrics. CBS Publishers & Distributors. p. 372. ISBN 978-81-239-2334-5.
  6. Shim CS, Williams MH (May 1983). "Relationship of wheezing to the severity of obstruction in asthma". Archives of Internal Medicine. 143 (5): 890–2. doi:10.1001/archinte.143.5.890. PMID 6679232.
  7. Earis JE, Marsh K, Pearson MG, Ogilvie CM (Dec 1982). "The inspiratory "squawk" in extrinsic allergic alveolitis and other pulmonary fibroses". Thorax. 37 (12): 923–6. doi:10.1136/thx.37.12.923. PMC 459459. PMID 7170682.
  8. Meslier N, Charbonneau G, Racineux JL (Nov 1995). "Wheezes". European Respiratory Journal. 8 (11): 1942–8. doi:10.1183/09031936.95.08111942. PMID 8620967.
  9. 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. http://dictionary.oed.com Archived 2006-06-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Sapira JD, Orient JM (2000). Sapira's art & science of bedside diagnosis (2nd ed.). Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 978-0-683-30714-6.

Further reading

  • Godfrey S, Uwyyed K, Springer C, Avital A (Mar 2004). "Is clinical wheezing reliable as the endpoint for bronchial challenges in preschool children?". Pediatric Pulmonology. 37 (3): 193–200. doi:10.1002/ppul.10434. PMID 14966812. S2CID 25264776.

External links

External resources