Wheezing: When to See a Healthcare Provider

Wheezing can be a sign of respiratory distress

If you or your child have ever gone to the doctor with a cough, you may have been asked if you have noticed any wheezing. Wheezing is a shrill whistle or course grumble that occurs when there is swelling in the airways, making it more difficult to breathe.

Wheezing is a sign that someone is not breathing as well as they should. It could mean the person is not getting as much oxygen as they need. This article discusses different types of wheezing, including wheezing coughs, conditions that can cause wheezing, and when you should seek medical attention for wheezing.

Child having a breathing treatment
PhotoAlto / James Hardy / Getty Images 

What Wheezing Sounds Like

Wheezing is simply a whistling or grumbling sound made when breathing. It is typically heard when a person exhales (breathes out) and sounds like a high-pitched whistle. It can also occur on the inhale, which is especially common with a wheezing cough.

Wheezing is not simply loud breathing or the sound of congestion or mucus when you breathe. It is a sign of airway inflammation. Wheezing and wheezing coughs are typically accompanied by chest tightness.

Conditions where wheezing often occurs include:

Wheezing is usually a sign that there is a problem with the lungs. It is most often caused by swelling in the lower airway. It can be a medical emergency if not treated quickly.

What to Do

If you suspect your child is wheezing, contact her healthcare provider right away. If she has never wheezed before, she will likely need to be seen by her pediatrician so they can figure out what is wrong and how to treat her.

Treatment depends on the severity of the illness and how much difficulty she is having with her breathing.

If you feel that you are wheezing, contact your healthcare provider or seek medical attention. If you have a history of wheezing, then you should have a treatment plan in place and know what to do. If you follow your plan and it does not help, seek medical attention right away.

If you do not have any medications available to treat wheezing, sitting in a bathroom with the shower turned on as hot as it will get may help. Make sure you close the door and don't sit in the water, just sit in the bathroom and breathe in the steamy air.

If you have signs of a severe allergic reaction that occurs with the wheezing, such as tongue or lip swelling, vomiting, dizziness, rash or feeling like the throat is closing, call 911 or seek emergency medical attention right immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do I wheeze when lying down?

    Wheezing while laying down commonly occurs with asthma, allergies, anxiety, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or sleep apnea.

    Wheezing when lying down can also be caused by mucous draining from the sinuses due to a cold, flu, allergies, or sinus infection.

    If you experience wheezing when lying down and are not diagnosed with any of the above, see your healthcare provider to determine the cause.

  • Is there an over-the-counter medicine for wheezing?

    Yes, Asthmanefrin (racepinephrine) and Primatene Mist (epinephrine) are two over-the-counter medications that are used to treat wheezing.

    Other OTC medications for wheezing include antihistamines, decongestions, and cold medicine. These can help relieve wheezing due to allergies or upper respiratory infections.

    If you have a wheezing cough, an OTC cough syrup may help to relieve the cough and congestion.


  • Does COVID cause a wheezing cough?

    It can. COVID can present in many different ways depending on the person and the variant or strain of coronavirus. In some people, COVID causes lung problems that can present as a wheezing cough.

    If you experience a wheezing cough, talk to your healthcare provider.

  • When should you see a healthcare provider for wheezing?

    If you or your child experience wheezing, call your healthcare provider for guidance. Seek immediate medical attention for wheezing if it:

    • Begins suddenly after a bee sting, taking medication, or eating an allergy-causing food (such as peanuts)
    • Is accompanied by severe difficulty breathing or bluish skin color
    • Occurs after choking on a small object or food


5 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. Al-shamrani A, Bagais K, Alenazi A, Alqwaiee M, Al-harbi AS. Wheezing in children: Approaches to diagnosis and management. Int J Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2019;6(2):68-73. doi:10.1016/j.ijpam.2019.02.003

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Wheezing.

  3. Mayo Clinic. Wheezing.

  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine: DailyMed. Primatene Mist - epinephrine inhalation aerosol.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19.

Additional Reading
  • Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. Wheezing.

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.