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A wheeze is a whistling sound made when air flows through narrowed airways in the lungs, usually when people exhale. A healthcare provider can listen for wheezing through a stethoscope, but sometimes wheezing can be heard even without a stethoscope.
Wheezing is caused by someone pushing air through airways that are narrow. Wheezing is a common symptom in children who have asthma or viral infections, but it can also be caused by other conditions including bronchiolitis, tracheomalacia and pneumonia.
Wheezing is a symptom in many respiratory conditions and no one group of children is more likely to wheeze than another.
Tobacco smoke irritates the airways and being around smoke often makes wheezing worse. Parents and caregivers should not smoke around children.
Wheezing is a symptom of many respiratory conditions. If your child wheezes often or for an extended period of time after being sick, you should see your child’s health care provider.
Depending on your child’s medical history and physical exam, the provider may order tests to determine the cause of your child’s wheezing. Wheezing can be a symptom of asthma, so providers may recommend spirometry, a common test used to diagnose asthma.
During spirometry, the child takes as deep a breath and blows out the air as fast as possible. A child-friendly computer program and respiratory therapist coach the child during the test. This is a painless test that children find fun to do. It can provide valuable information for parents and the health care provider.
In general, cooperative children starting at age 4 can perform spirometry. The results show the total volume of air breathed out, and if the flow of air from the large and small airways is normal. If the results are low, the child may be given an inhaled medication called “albuterol” to help expand the airways, and the spirometry is repeated 15 minutes later to see if the results improve. This test is used to diagnose asthma as well as other lung conditions.
Other tests that may be used to determine the cause of your child’s wheezing include: x-rays of the chest or neck, fluoroscopy (an x-ray that shows movement and allows providers to see how the child’s trachea looks while breathing in and out), CT scans (a test that combines a lot of x-ray images to show an entire section of the body in detail), pulmonary function tests (tests that show how much air a child can breathe in and out) and bronchoscopy (a procedure in which a doctor uses a tiny camera to see the inside of a child’s airways).
Treatment for wheezing depends on the cause. If your child wheezes due to asthma, the provider may prescribe medication to control your child’s asthma and prevent asthma attacks. If it is due to the shape of the airway, as in tracheomalacia, your child may just need time to grow out of it.
Children's Hospital Colorado Breathing Institute's mission is to provide comprehensive clinical care and consultation for children with common and complex breathing problems. Our asthma program sees more children with asthma than any other hospital in Colorado.
Areas of nationally recognized expertise include asthma, cystic fibrosis, airway anomalies and disease, pulmonary hypertension, apnea and sleep-disordered breathing, primary ciliary dyskinesia and children's interstitial lung disease.
The latest in diagnostic testing is available for infants and 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.
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