Children's Hospital Colorado

Noisy Breathing

What is noisy breathing?

Noisy breathing is exactly what it sounds like: your child breathes loudly or your child makes a “weird” noise when breathing. Noisy breathing, depending on its characteristics, can be called stertor, stridor or wheeze.

What causes noisy breathing?

Noisy breathing is caused by obstructed air flow, when something makes it difficult to get air in or out of their body. Obstruction can be caused by something pushing on the airway from the outside, a structural problem with the airway or something blocking the airway such as mucus or a foreign body.

Who gets noisy breathing?

Noisy breathing can occur in a wide variety of underlying respiratory conditions and children born early or with underlying airway problems are more likely to have noisy breathing.

Additionally, smoke irritates the airways and can make noisy breathing worse. It is very important not to smoke in front of your child. This also includes not smoking outside, in the basement or in your car because smoke will stay on your clothes, hair, furniture and on car upholstery, which exposes your child to third hand smoke.

Helpful Resources

Healthy Children, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, provides parents with health information on a variety of health issues.

What tests are used to diagnose the cause of noisy breathing?

The most important way to determine the cause of noisy breathing is the child’s past medical history and exam. Additional testing is not always necessary. Depending on your child’s medical history and physical exam, the doctor may order tests to determine the cause of your child’s noisy breathing.

These tests include:

  • X-rays of the chest or neck
  • CT scans, a test that combines multiple X-rays to create a 3D image of the body
  • Fluoroscopy, an X-ray that shows movement so doctors can see how a child’s trachea looks while breathing
  • Pulmonary function tests, tests that show how much air a child can breathe in and out)
  • Bronchoscopy (.pdf) 
  • Laryngoscopy (procedures in which a doctor uses a tiny camera to see the inside of a child’s airways)

How do providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

Noisy breathing is a symptom of many respiratory conditions. If your child’s breathing is often noisy, is noisy for an extended period of time after being sick, or your child is working hard to breathe using rapid breathing, retractions, sucking in the skin between the ribs or above the collarbones, or has or a bluish color around the mouth, you should see a doctor. Based on your child’s symptoms, medical history and a physical exam, the doctor may order more tests to determine the cause of your child’s noisy breathing.

How is noisy breathing treated?

Noisy breathing is one concern addressed in the Breathing Institute

Treatment for noisy breathing depends on the cause. If your child has noisy breathing due to a bacterial infection, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. If it is due to the shape of the airway, your child may need surgery (such as a procedure to correct a deviated septum). If it is due to a floppy airway (malacia), your child may just need time to grow out of it.  

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado for your child’s noisy breathing?

Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Breathing Institute team are experts at diagnosing and treating children with noisy breathing, no matter how simple or complicated the cause. The Breathing Institute's mission is to provide comprehensive clinical care and consultation for children with common and complex breathing problems.

We are nationally recognized for our expertise in treatments of asthma , cystic fibrosis , airway anomalies and disease, pulmonary hypertension, apnea and sleep-disordered breathing, primary ciliary dyskinesia and children's interstitial lung disease. Children's Hospital Colorado has the depth and breadth of experience to treat the broad spectrum of all breathing conditions in children.

The latest in diagnostic testing is available for both infants and older children, and an experienced staff of pediatric specialists including physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, dietitians, social workers and respiratory therapists allows families to benefit from the team approach to treating breathing disorders. Our collaborative approach to asthma, breathing and lung care incorporates and encourages family involvement.

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