Wheezing in Children: Symptoms and Treatment

Wheezing in children can be a symptom of a respiratory disease. That's why it's important to pay attention to wheezing sounds when children breathe.
Wheezing in Children: Symptoms and Treatment

Last update: 17 December, 2018

Different types of diseases can lead to wheezing in children. This is where there is a whistling, shrill sound while breathing. It happens when air travels through the narrow breathing passages in the lungs.

According to the pediatricians Lydiana Ávila and Manuel Soto from the National Children’s Hospital of Costa Rica, there are several childhood diseases characterized by this whistling sound.

They emphasize that wheezing can mean lots of different things. In addition, they emphasize that this sound is most commonly associated with asthmaHowever, there are other conditions that can cause it.

What is wheezing in children?

Wheezing is a respiratory noise, usually when exhaling. However, it can also happen while inhaling.

Why does this happen?

According to the previously mentioned specialists, whistling happens when something blocks air flow. This produces a vibration in the walls, causing an audible sound.

Some causes of wheezing in children are:

  • Asthma. Asthma is the most common cause of wheezing in children. It’s a chronic disease where the airways become inflamed.
  • Inhaling something into the lungs. Sudden wheezing may be due to inhaling something besides air. Objects stuck in the larynx, trachea or bronchi produce intense dyspnea. However, objects stuck in the peripheral pathways can cause pneumonia and wheezing.
  • Viral infections. Infectious diseases, usually viruses, are a common cause of wheezing in children, especially in infants. They can appear in viruses like adenovirus, parainfluenza, rhinovirus, and atypical bacteria like Mycoplama pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumonia e.
Wheezing in Children
  • Some medications. Accidentally taking organiphosphates such as parathion and methyl parathion can cause wheezing, coughing and dyspnea.
  • Bronchiectasis. This may be caused by damage to the major airways of your lungs. Therefore, the airways widen.
  • Bronchiolitis. Infections are usually the cause of wheezing in children. On the other hand, bronchiolitis is an acute inflammatory blockage of small airways.
  • Bronchitis. It’s the inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Those tubes are responsible for bringing oxygen to the lungs. It can be either acute or chronic.
  • Acid refluxThis is when acid from the stomach randomly goes into the esophagus. It might be due to an issue with the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Breathing in irritating substances. This might happen by breathing in chemicals or smoke.

Symptoms of whistling while breathing

Whistling while breathing usually comes with other symptoms. However, the symptoms depend on the cause. When you listen to your child wheeze, it’s important to pay attention to the following symptoms:

  • Constant dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Difficulty eating
  • Bluish color to the skin (in some cases)

“Wheezing happens when something blocks air flow. This produces a vibration in the walls, causing an audible sound.”

Wheezing in Children


When it comes to severe wheezing, specialists will request a chest x-ray. With it, they can find signs of foreign substances, pneumonia or heart failure. Then, using a finger sensor, they can determine the oxygen levels in the blood. In technical terms, it’s called pulse oximetry.

On the other hand, asthma attacks don’t require additional tests unless there are signs of severe respiratory problems. Kids who have frequent asthma attacks may need more tests.

However, if inhalers or other drugs help relieve these problems, they probably won’t need them. Doctors may do tests requiring kids to swallow, or even look into the breathing tubes.

Also, in the physical exam, there needs to be key data: for example, if they are underweight, have heart murmurs, and of course, whistle while breathing.

In short, wheezing in children can be an indicator of a respiratory disease. It could affect kids’ quality of life. If you notice a whistling sound, go to the doctor immediately. There, the doctor can perform the necessary tests.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ávila, Lydiana y Soto, Manuel. (2004). Sibilancias en pediatría. Revista Médica del Hospital Nacional de Niños Dr. Carlos Sáenz Herrera.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.