Less Common Causes of Chest Wheezing

See what causes wheezing, other than asthma

If you develop a wheeze, you may wonder what causes wheezing other than asthma. While wheezing is a common symptom of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and vocal chord dysfunction other frequent causes.

Less common causes include heart failure, cystic fibrosis, and even acid reflux. Learn about some of the less common causes that may cause you to wheeze.

Woman wheezing after exercise
Maskot / Getty Images

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) means the heart is unable to provide an adequate blood supply to the rest of the body. In addition to wheezing, it causes:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing when lying flat
  • Swelling in the feet and legs

People with CHF often have an enlarged heart with an inability to adequately pump blood to the rest of the body.


Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lungs. While PE may occasionally cause wheezing, more common symptoms are a sudden onset of shortness of breath and chest pain.

PE may be associated with risk factors such as:

  • Use of birth control pills
  • Previous blood clot
  • Immobility from a long plane or car trip

Cystic Fibrosis (CF)

People with cystic fibrosis usually have poor growth in childhood, cough, and shortness of breath in addition to wheezing.

CF can be diagnosed with a special test called the sweat chloride test.



People with bronchiectasis often have recurrent pneumonia associated with cough and shortness of breath. If it's mistaken for asthma and treated with inhalers or corticosteroids, you're unlikely to respond.

Bronchiectasis may be diagnosed with a computed tomography (CT) scan of the chest.


Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis

Wheezing from hypersensitivity pneumonitis results from chronic exposure to certain substances called antigens, such as moldy hay and bird droppings.

With this condition, wheezing generally goes away after the offending antigen is gone.


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

While GERD can be a cause of worsening asthma, it can also lead to wheezing from recurrent pneumonia or scarring in the lungs.

Unlike asthma, wheezing from this condition usually goes away after the underlying condition is treated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When should I be worried about wheezing?

    Difficulty breathing is always cause for concern. Be sure to bring it up with your healthcare provider.

    Get emergency medical care for the following symptoms:

    • Struggling for each breath
    • Difficulty speaking due to shortness of breath
    • Ribs collapsing in with each breath
    • Rapid or noisy breathing
    • Bluish color in the lips or face
  • Can being overweight cause wheezing?

    Yes, people with obesity are more likely to have asthma and to have wheezing without asthma. Also, obese asthma is a recently identified type of asthma with a unique mechanism.

  • Will wheezing go away on its own?

    It's possible for wheezing from some causes to go away on its own. However, wheezing should always be monitored closely and you should get immediate treatment for impaired breathing.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Heart failure.

  2. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Venous thromboembolism.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Cystic fibrosis.

  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Bronchiectasis.

  5. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. GERD and asthma.

  7. Seattle Children's Hospital. Trouble breathing.

  8. Çolak Y, Afzal S, Lange P, Nordestgaard BG. Obese individuals experience wheezing without asthma but not asthma without wheezing: a Mendelian randomisation study of 85,437 adults from the Copenhagen General Population StudyThorax. 2016;71(3):247-254. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2015-207379

  9. Ray A, Oriss TB, Wenzel SE. Emerging molecular phenotypes of asthmaAm J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2015;308(2):L130-L140. doi:10.1152/ajplung.00070.2014

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.