Dr Mark Rosenthal


Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

Wheezing is a whistling or rattling sound that happens while breathing in or out. It is very common for babies and young children to wheeze occasionally, for example when they have a cold. However, it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition such as asthma. When should you be concerned about your baby’s wheezing?

Concerned About Baby’s Wheezing

What Causes Wheezing?

Wheezing happens when something prevents air from passing through the airways as easily as it usually does. The airway might be narrower than usual or there could be something blocking it. As the air squeezes past, it causes a whistling sound. The sound can be loud enough for you to hear or it may be so soft that the doctor is only able to listen to it through a stethoscope. Sometimes wheezing mainly happens while breathing out, but in other cases it happens while breathing in.

When Should You See a Doctor About Wheezing?

Wheezing is fairly common when babies or young children have a cold that is affecting their airways. Since their airways are narrower, they are more likely to wheeze when they have an infection. You shouldn’t worry if you notice some wheezing alongside other symptoms such as a runny nose, cough or fever, as long as the symptoms are mild. The wheezing should disappear within a few days as the infection clears up.

However, there are some kinds of wheezing that you should be more concerned about.

Severe Wheezing

If your baby is wheezing a lot or breathing very noisily then it is important to see a doctor. You should seek urgent care if you think that they are having trouble breathing. You should always see a doctor if the symptoms of a cold or infection are more severe than usual.

Persistent Wheezing

If your baby wheezes a lot then it could be a sign of asthma. Babies with asthma are more likely to wheeze when they have colds. Wheezing can also happen when babies or young children are exposed to triggers such as pollen, smoke, dust mites or exercise.

Asthma causes wheezing because it narrows the airways. It can be very serious if left untreated, because an asthma attack can make it hard for your child to breathe. A severe asthma attack could even be fatal, so you should always see a doctor about persistent or frequent wheezing.

Persistent wheezing could also be a sign of an allergy. The doctor can help you to identify the cause so that you can avoid it to prevent the symptoms from returning.

Wheezing without a Cold

Wheezing in babies is usually a sign that they have a cold, but if you can hear a whistling sound when they don’t have any other symptoms then you should see a doctor. One of the most common reasons for wheezing without cold-like symptoms is that there is something stuck in the throat or airway. Babies often pick up and swallow objects they find on the ground. If something is stuck then it may need to be removed by a doctor.

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