Does Wheezing Mean That I Have Asthma?

No, not necessarily. The to-and-fro movement of air through the lungs and tracheobronchial tree should always be silent. A wheeze is an abnormal sound produced by turbulent flow of air through the lungs. There are many different causes of wheezing The occurrence of a wheeze by itself without any other symptoms is unusual. It is therefore important to note if the wheezing is recur-rent or if it is associated with other lung symptoms such as breathlessness, cough, or mucus production. Medical students learn that not all that wheezes is asthma. Although most people with asthma will at some point experience wheezing, not everyone who wheezes has a diagnosis of asthma. Some people who wheeze will turn out to have a lung condition other than asthma, while others will wheeze even though there is no identifiable lung condition and the lungs appear completely normal. The first category includes persons with a cigarette-related lung disease such as COPD, for example.

Other lung diseases, such as bronchiectasis or bronchiolitis, can also lead to wheezing. Certain lung infections can cause wheezing in completely normal lungs. Some people without any lung disease but who have congestive heart failure can wheeze if they take in too much fluid. Still others might wheeze after a severe allergic reaction, such as to a bee sting, for example. Gastric reflux, called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), is a disease of the digestive system and is an example of a non-pulmonary condition that can mimic asthma. Similarly, vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) syndrome affects the voice box (larynx) and is often con-fused with asthma. Finally, and especially in children, a wheeze can be caused by a foreign body trapped in the bronchial tree. Young children, in particular, explore the world by putting objects in their mouths. From there, it’s a short trip into the breathing passages. A foreign body should be retrieved from the lung passages, usually via bronchoscopy. Medical journals and textbooks have described the successful retrieval of many disparate items, including fish and chicken bones, coins, toy fragments, and even a coffee stirrer.

If you have experienced wheezing, especially on more than one occasion and perhaps associated with other symptoms, consultation with your physician is the appropriate next course of action. Your doctor will be able to ascertain if the wheeze is due to asthma or not and can advise you on what treatments would be indicated for you.