Is Wheezing a Common Asthma Symptom for Adults?

Wheezing is one of the most common asthma symptoms you may experience and is often the main reason many people seek care. Parents and patients are often scared the first time they hear wheezing.

With wheezing, you will hear a high-pitched whistle sound as you breathe through your mouth or nose. While most commonly heard as you exhale or breathe air out of the lungs, wheezing can occur when inhaling or breathing in.

The wheezing sound results from the airways of the lungs narrowing as a result of inflammation and constriction. This makes it more difficult for air to flow through the lungs.

A woman catching her breath after a run, night scene
Georgijevic / Getty Images

The inflammatory response that is part of asthma is the reason this inflammation occurs. Not all wheezing is asthma since conditions like pneumonia, COPD, or certain vocal cord problems may also lead to wheezing.

Wheezing is never normal and should not be ignored. It is one of the classic symptoms associated with asthma. Based on your history and some of the symptoms just below, your doctor may make a diagnosis of asthma; however, wheezing can indicate a number of other medical problems besides asthma.

  • Chronic cough (especially at night)
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath


In and of itself, wheezing does not necessarily need to be treated. It is, however, very important to find out what is causing it. Wheezing certainly requires treatment if you begin to develop symptoms.

If you hear yourself wheezing, the first thing you want to do is to step back and see if you were exposed to something that might be triggering your asthma. This could be dust, mold, dust mites, environmental smoke, pollen, or any number of other allergens.

One of the easiest ways to avoid wheezing is to avoid the cause from the beginning. Since you spend more than 90 percent of your life indoors, it will be key to look at your indoor environment first.

After you have made sure nothing in your environment is triggering your asthma symptoms, you can think about active treatment. Your rescue inhaler should provide immediate relief of wheezing and associated symptoms.

Medicines, such as albuterol, act as a bronchodilator—your asthma symptoms improve by relaxing the muscles in the tightened airways during an asthma attack. As a result of using your rescue inhaler, airways in the lung increase in size allowing more air to move more freely and provide you relief of symptoms.

The other kind of asthma treatment is your controller inhaler. These preventive medications include several different categories, such as inhaled steroids. Each works in unique ways on a specific part of the pathophysiology of asthma, and some are more appropriate for certain levels of asthma severity. Similar to avoiding triggers, these medications will prevent you from ever developing wheezing.

When to Contact a Doctor

Because wheezing is never normal, you need to contact your doctor or go to the emergency room if:

  • Wheezing is new
  • Wheezing is not new, but getting worse
  • You have any other symptoms, such as a change in skin color or you do not seem to be thinking right
  • Wheezing occurs after taking a new medication, you are bitten by an insect, or seems to be caused by the food you recently ate

If your wheezing is a new problem and you do not have a diagnosis of asthma, you should definitely see a doctor as many different things can cause wheezing.

When you visit the doctor, you will be asked many questions about your history, symptoms, and if the symptoms are associated with any of the already discussed triggers. Triggers are things that "set off" your asthma. You can learn how to identify and avoid the common ones to help better control your asthma.

If you are already being treated for asthma and still wheezing significantly, your treatment may not be working or you may not be taking the treatment correctly. When your asthma is under good control, you should not wheeze. Improving communication with your doctor and asking for a health information prescription may help you gain the skills you need to get better control of your asthma.

If you use an asthma action plan, make sure you follow the instructions for wheezing. If you don't have one, you need to make discussing one with your asthma doctor a priority.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Medline Plus. Wheezing
  • Patient Information- University of Maryland Medical Center. Wheezing