Wheezing Cough: What You Need to Know

Wheezing Cough: What You Need to Know

By Sara Lindberg. Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH

A wheezing cough is typically triggered by a viral infection, asthma, allergies, and in some cases, more severe medical complications.

Even though a wheezing cough can affect people of all ages, it can be particularly alarming when it happens to an infant. That’s why it’s important to learn the causes, symptoms, and treatments for a wheezing cough in both adults and babies.


What are the causes of a wheezing cough in adults?

A wheezing cough in adults can be caused by a wide range of ailments. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, some of the more common causes include the following conditions:


Viral or bacterial infections

Viral or bacterial infections like bronchitis that produce an ongoing cough with mucus, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a low fever can lead to a wheezing cough. Also, the common cold, which is a viral infection, can cause wheezing if it settles in the chest.

Pneumonia, which can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, causes inflammation in the air sacs in your lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe, and symptoms can include a wheezing or phlegmy cough, along with fever, sweating or chills, chest pain, and fatigue.



Asthma symptoms can cause the lining of your airways to swell and narrow, and the muscles in your airways to tighten. The airways then get filled with mucus, which makes it even harder for air to get into your lungs.

These conditions can bring on an asthma flare-up or attack. Symptoms include:

  • • coughing
  • • wheezing when breathing
  • • shortness of breath
  • • tightness in the chest
  • • fatigue



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, often referred to as COPD, is an umbrella term for several progressive lung diseases. The most common are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Many people with COPD have both conditions.

Emphysema is a lung condition that occurs most often in people who smoke. It slowly weakens and destroys the air sacs in your lungs. This makes it harder for the sacs to absorb oxygen. As a result, less oxygen is able to get into the bloodstream. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and extreme fatigue.

Chronic bronchitis is caused by damage to the bronchial tubes, in particular the hair-like fibers called cilia. Without cilia, it can be hard to cough up mucus, which causes more coughing. This irritates the tubes and causes them to swell. This can make it hard to breathe, and can also result in a wheezing cough.



With gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or acid reflux.

GERD affects about 20 percent of people in the United States. Symptoms include heartburn, chest pain, wheezing, and shortness of breath. If not treated, the irritation from these symptoms can lead to a chronic cough.



Allergies to pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander, or certain foods can result in a wheezing cough.

While rare, some people may experience anaphylaxis, which is a serious, life threatening medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Reactions occur almost immediately after being exposed to an allergen with symptoms that include:

  • • a swollen throat
  • • chest tightness
  • • hives
  • • nausea
  • • rash
  • • vomiting
  • • wheezing


Heart disease

Some types of heart disease can cause fluid to build up in the lungs. This, in turn, may lead to persistent coughing and wheezing with white or pink, blood-tinged mucus.


Home remedies for a wheezing cough

There are several home remedies you can try to help manage the symptoms of a wheezing cough if it’s not too severe.

But before you proceed, make sure your doctor has given you the thumbs up to treat your wheezing cough at home. These home remedies aren’t meant to replace medical treatment, but they may be helpful to use with medications or treatments your doctor has prescribed. 



When you inhale moist air or steam, you may notice that it’s easier to breathe. This may also help reduce the severity of your cough.

There are several ways to use steam for a wheezing cough. You can:

  • • Fill a bowl with hot water, put a towel over your head, and lean over the bowl so you can inhale the moist air.
  • • Sit in the bathroom while the shower is running. This is the best way to use steam for an infant.
  • • Take a hot shower with the door closed and the fan off.



A humidifier works by releasing steam or water vapor into the air to increase humidity. Breathing air that’s got more moisture in it can help loosen mucus and relieve congestion.

Using a humidifier is appropriate for both adults and babies. Consider running a small humidifier at night while you or your child are sleeping.


Drink warm liquids

Hot tea, warm water with a teaspoon of honey, or other warm liquids can help loosen mucus and relax the airway. Hot tea isn’t appropriate for infants.


Breathing exercises

For adults with bronchial asthma, deep breathing exercises, similar to those done in yoga, may be especially helpful.

A 2009 study found that people with bronchial asthma, who did breathing exercises for 20 minutes twice daily for 12 weeks, had fewer symptoms and better lung function than those who didn’t do the breathing exercises.


Avoid allergens

If you know that your wheezing cough is brought on by an allergic reaction to something in the environment, take steps to reduce or avoid contact with whatever may trigger your allergy.

Some of the most common environmental allergens include pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander, insect stings, and latex. Common food allergens include milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, fish and shellfish, and soybeans. You may also want to avoid cigarette smoke since it can make a wheezing cough worse.


Other remedies

  • • Try some honey. For adults or children over 1 year of age, a teaspoon of honey may be more effective at soothing a cough than some cough medications. Don’t give honey to a child younger than a year old due to the risk of botulism.
  • • Consider an over-the-counter cough medication. It’s important not to use these medications in children under 6 years old, as they can cause dangerous side effects.
  • • Suck on cough drops or hard candy. Lemon, honey, or menthol-flavored cough drops may help soothe irritated airways. Avoid giving these to young children, as they’re a choking hazard.



A wheezing cough is often a symptom of a mild illness or manageable medical condition. However, it’s important to pay attention to the severity, duration, and other symptoms that accompany the cough, especially with babies and young children.

If you or your child or infant has a wheezing cough accompanied by breathing that’s rapid, irregular or labored, a high fever, bluish skin, or chest tightness, be sure to get immediate medical care.

Also seek immediate attention if you think the wheezing cough may be due to anaphylaxis, which is a serious, life threatening condition. In this situation, reactions occur very quickly after being exposed to an allergen.

Besides wheezing or coughing, other symptoms include trouble breathing, a rash or hives, a swollen tongue or throat, chest tightness, nausea, or vomiting.


source: healthline.com


Download the full issue of the March-April 2024 Healthy Options News Digest here.


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