You can stop wheezing by using an inhaler or trying breathing techniques like pursed-lip breathing and deep belly breathing.
Drinking warm liquids can also help with wheezing because they relax the airway and open up your bronchial tubes.
You can also try inhaling steam, since wheezing can be caused by dry air.
This article was medically reviewed by Omid Mehdizadeh, MD, otolaryngologist and laryngologist at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute's Pacific Eye, Ear & Skull Base Center at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound your breath makes as it passes through a narrowed airway.
Lung diseases like asthma are the most common cause of wheezing, as these conditions can make the bronchial tubes that carry air to your lungs contract. Wheezing can also be caused by other conditions that narrow your airway, such as a respiratory infection or an allergic reaction.
Wheezing can be uncomfortable, but there are ways to treat it. Here are several methods you can use to stop wheezing and breathe easier.
1. Try pursed-lip breathing
Best for: Wheezing from shortness of breath
If you have asthma, your doctor may recommend trying pursed-lip breathing to help fight against bronchospasm, a common asthma symptom that makes the muscles in your airway tighten and cause wheezing.
Wheezing often comes with feeling short of breath, as you need to use extra effort to breathe through a narrowed airway. Pursed-lip breathing can help ease shortness of breath by slowing down your breathing and keeping your airways open for longer. When airways are open, breathing requires less work and each breath is more effective in getting oxygen.
You can practice pursed-lip breathing by using these steps:
Sit down and relax your shoulders and neck muscles.
Keep your mouth closed and inhale through your nose for two counts.
Purse your lips as if you are blowing out a candle.
Breathe out slowly through your lips while counting to four. Blow all the air out of your lungs without forcing your breath out.
Repeat until your breathing feels easier.
Though this may offer some relief, "Breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing do not always stop wheezing or bronchospasm in patients with asthma," says Stanley Fineman, MD, an allergist at Atlanta Allergy & Asthma. If you still have trouble breathing, take your prescribed asthma medication, or get medical attention right away.
2. Try deep belly breathing
Best for: Wheezing because of anxiety
Deep belly breathing can help you train your diaphragm, the muscle that sits below your lungs, to take on more of the work of breathing. This can help take some of the pressure off of constricted bronchial tubes that cause wheezing.
You can try deep belly breathing by following these steps:
Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the ground.
Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest so you can feel them rising and falling.
Breathe in through your nose, feeling the hand on your stomach rise and trying to keep your chest still.
Purse your lips and breathe out, pulling your stomach muscles inward and keeping your chest still.
Repeat until your breathing slows and becomes easier. With time, you may be able to try this exercise in a sitting position.
Breathing exercises can help control shortness of breath and normalize your breathing pattern when you are wheezing, says Ryan Thomas, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist and professor at Michigan State University.
"But it does not usually treat the underlying cause, unless anxiety is a trigger for asthma," Thomas says. For some people, feeling anxious can cause rapid breathing called hyperventilating, which can worsen symptoms of asthma. Deep belly breathing may be especially helpful for people with anxiety-triggered asthma to slow their breathing.
3. Drink warm liquids
Best for: Wheezing because of a buildup of mucus
Drinking warm liquids like herbal tea or warm water can help wheezing by relaxing your airway, allowing your bronchial tubes to open up wider. If your wheezing is caused by a build-up of mucus in your throat from a cold, warm liquid can also break up that mucus and help it drain more easily.
Liquids that are just above room temperature may be helpful for breathing symptoms, but drinking liquids that are either too hot or too cold can cause your airways to spasm and make wheezing worse.
4. Inhale steam
Best for: Wheezing from inhaling dry air
Inhaling steam can be helpful to stop wheezing, depending on what is setting off your symptoms. "Steam or cool mist vaporizers can help if wheezing is triggered by dry air," Thomas says. This is because breathing in dry air can irritate your airway, causing it to swell and leave a smaller area for breath to pass through.
However, if heat is a trigger for your asthma, breathing in steam may not be the best option. "Breathing in steam can potentially cause worsening of asthma since it can act as an irritant," Fineman says.
In these cases, it may be best to use a humidifier to increase humidity in the air around you, rather than directly breathing in steam.
5. Take an inhaler
Best for: Wheezing from asthma
If you have asthma and start to have wheezing symptoms, one of the first lines of treatment is to use an inhaler. The standard "rescue inhaler" doctors prescribe contains albuterol, a medication that helps open up your airways when your bronchial muscles spasm.
"Albuterol relaxes the muscles in the airway making it less narrow and resolving the wheezing," says Thomas.
Thomas says that "albuterol will not always work for wheezing because there are things other than asthma which cause wheezing." For example, if you have build up of mucus from a cold, you may be better off drinking a warm beverage or taking a decongestant medication.
6. Take antihistamines
Best for: Wheezing from an allergic reaction
Antihistamines work by limiting your immune system's overreaction to an allergen like pollen — this reaction can include swelling in your throat that makes it harder to breathe.
Though over the counter antihistamines can help with a mild allergic reaction, you should get medical help right away if taking oral antihistamines doesn't work. In this case, a doctor may give you antihistamine medication through an IV to quickly stop your immune system's overreaction.
Each of these methods can help with mild symptoms of wheezing, depending on what's causing it. But if you still can't stop wheezing, or feel like you can't catch your breath, it's important to get medical help immediately.
"If your wheezing is troublesome frequently, talk to your doctor," Thomas says. "Frequent wheezing is a risk factor for severe asthma attacks and hospitalization."
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