Home Remedies for Wheezing

If you’ve ever heard a whistling sound when breathing, this is known as wheezing. Wheezing often sounds like a high-pitched whistle and most often happens when a person exhales (breathing out), though it can sometimes be heard when inhaling (breathing in).

Wheezing happens as a result of inflammation that leads to the tightening of air passageways. Home remedies, including eating well, hydrotherapy, and breathing exercises, may help reduce wheezing. 

Man holding chest and wheezing

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What Causes Wheezing? 

Wheezing is typically caused by narrowing of the small bronchial tubes in the chest or obstruction (blockage) in the bronchial tubes or larger airways and vocal cords.

Wheezing is most often heard in individuals with chronic (long-term) conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which cause the bronchial airways to narrow and spasm. Other common causes of wheezing include:

  • Allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Epiglottitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Heart failure
  • Lung cancer
  • Drugs (i.e., aspirin)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): Most commonly seen in infants and young children
  • Respiratory tract infection
  • Smoking

In some cases, wheezing may be caused by excess mucus in the airways. Coughing forcefully two to three times may loosen up any mucus and resolve the wheezing sounds. 

Symptoms

The most obvious symptom of wheezing is the high-pitched whistle sound that occurs when a person breathes—it is most often heard when exhaling. Wheezing may also be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause, including: 

  • Chest pain 
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue 
  • Laryngitis (hoarseness) 
  • Rattling secretions in the throat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stuffy or runny nose 

Wheezing may also occur in individuals who are experiencing an anaphylactic (severe allergic) reaction to something (e.g., food, insect bite, medication). Seek immediate medical attention (call 911) if you are experiencing wheezing as a result of anaphylaxis. 

Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy (water therapy) involves the use of water for health purposes. Hydrotherapy is one of the most basic, widely-used methods for treating a number of conditions, including wheezing. Hydrotherapy options for treating wheezing include: 

  • Drink water: Keeping your airways moisturized by drinking plenty of water helps prevent dehydration, which can worsen wheezing. 
  • Humidifier: Wheezing can worsen when breathing in dry air. A humidifier in the room can help moisturize the airways and loosen congestion to improve wheezing.
  • Hot shower: Moist air from taking a hot shower can loosen airways to reduce wheezing.
  • Sip tea: Hot drinks such as tea can relieve congestion and loosen up airways.
  • Steam inhaler: Inhaling warm, moisture-rich air can help clear sinuses and open up the constricted airways.

Nutritional Cures

Eating a healthy diet can improve many aspects of your health and well-being. Diet and nutrition are increasingly recognized as an option to protect the respiratory system and help reduce the symptoms of long-term conditions that cause wheezing. Eating foods rich in the following nutrients may help reduce or even eliminate your wheezing.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C has been thoroughly studied for its benefits to the respiratory system, including reducing wheezing. Studies show that consumption of fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C—citrus fruits, bell peppers, tomatoes, berries, broccoli, and spinach—can reduce wheezing and have a positive impact on lung health.

While vitamin C dietary supplements may be helpful, most research shows that eating foods rich in this powerful antioxidant nutrient is more beneficial.

Vitamin D

Several studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is linked to asthma, a common cause of wheezing. Foods rich in vitamin D include red meat, dairy products, and oily fish (e.g., salmon). You can also increase your vitamin D levels by spending time outside in the sunshine.

More research is needed to determine the optimal dose of vitamin D for different populations (e.g., age, gender, ethnicity) and whether or not vitamin D supplementation is as helpful as consuming foods rich in this nutrient. 

Vitamin E

Research shows that vitamin E has multiple antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation in airways as well as mucus that may cause or contribute to wheezing in individuals with asthma. Almonds, red bell pepper, peanut butter, pumpkin, spinach, and sunflower seeds are all rich in vitamin E. 

Ginger

Research shows that ginger may help relax the airways' smooth muscles, helping reduce constriction and wheezing. Fresh ginger contains compounds that may help ward off viruses that affect the respiratory system.

One study found that ginger extracts may help control asthma by having a positive effect on the cells in the airways. Try making a fresh ginger tea to loosen and moisturize your airways to reduce wheezing. 

Breathing Exercises

Like aerobic exercise can improve your cardiac health, breathing exercises can have a positive impact on your lung health and function. Breathing techniques can strengthen your lung capacity, make your lungs more efficient, and reduce wheezing.

Although these exercises may seem simple, it may take some practice to get them mastered. Practice when your breathing feels at ease, so you can turn to them when your wheezing increases or you’re experiencing shortness of breath. 

Pursed Lip Breathing

Pursed lip breathing is a technique that slows the rate of breathing, keeping the airways open longer, and making each breath more effective. When you breathe more efficiently, shortness of breath should be reduced.

To practice:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for two to four seconds.
  2. Purse your lips and breathe out through your mouth at least twice as long (four to eight seconds).
  3. Continue this exercise several times until your breathing feels more at ease.

Your wheezing is likely to improve or even subside after pursed-lip breathing. 

Yoga Breathing

The inability to exhale fully is common in those with asthma. Research shows that yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) improve lung function in individuals with asthma, which may reduce wheezing.

To do yoga breathing:

  1. Lie on your back with your eyes closed.
  2. Take a steady breath in through your nostrils until your lungs reach capacity.
  3. Hold your breath for one to two counts, then constrict some of the breath at the back of your throat and exhale slowly through your nostrils until you feel you’ve fully exhaled.
  4. Pause for two seconds and repeat up to 20 times. 

Over-the-Counter Remedies

Over-the-counter (OTC) remedies are a popular option for many, due to their affordability and availability (no need for a prescription). If you want to try over-the-counter medications to improve your wheezing, you may want to consider the following: 

Primatene Mist

Primatene Mist—an FDA-approved over-the-counter inhaler—is a bronchodilator that provides temporary relief of intermittent asthma symptoms. The mist contains epinephrine, which helps relieve wheezing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. 

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are particularly helpful for those who have allergies. Many are available over-the-counter in tablet, capsule, liquid gel, eye drop, and nasal spray forms. Common antihistamine brands include Allegra (fexofenadine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Claritin (loratadine), and Zyrtec (cetirizine). 

Cough Drops

Sucking on cough drops or hard candies may help soothe irritated and inflamed breathing airways. Keep in mind that cough drops can temporarily reduce a wheezing cough but are not a long-term remedy. Suck on a cough drop once every two to three hours for relief. 

Avoid Triggers

Whenever possible, try to avoid triggers that will worsen your wheezing, including: 

Cold, Dry Air

Cold, dry air can lead to airway narrowing and irritation in the airways, which can lead to coughing, worsen wheezing, and exacerbate breathing difficulties. 

Smoking or Vaping

Smoking and vaping are known to have a negative impact on lung health and breathing. A study published in 2020 shows that smoking and vaping (using e-cigarettes) are strongly associated with an increase in wheezing and other breathing difficulties. Speak with your healthcare provider to discuss smoking cessation options.

Allergens

Allergies can worsen breathing, particularly in those with conditions such as asthma or COPD. Common allergy symptoms include a runny nose, coughing, itchy eyes, and mild wheezing. If you have seasonal allergies, you may want to consider taking antihistamines to help reduce your allergy symptoms. 

Use an Air Purifier

Some conditions that cause wheezing may worsen when the environment is polluted or there are allergens in the air. An air purifier in your home can reduce the number of irritants in the air that may trigger wheezing.  

A Word From Verywell

Wheezing and other symptoms that come with it, such as shortness of breath, can be an unsettling experience. For most people, wheezing is a temporary situation caused by illness, irritation, or an underlying health condition.

If you are experiencing wheezing, it is important to see your healthcare provider since it may be an indication of an underlying health problem, such as asthma. Once you’ve discussed a treatment plan with your practitioner, home remedies may be an excellent option to improve your breathing and reduce wheezing.

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