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Wheezing in Infants and Children

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Sep 2021| Content last modified Sep 2021
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What is wheezing?

Wheezing is a whistling sound that happens when a person is trying to breathe out, but the airways in the lungs are partly blocked.

When should my child see a doctor?

Go to the emergency department at a hospital right away if your child has wheezing and any of these warning signs:

  • Wheezing sound when breathing in, not just when breathing out

  • Fast breathing

  • Using a lot of the chest muscles to breathe

  • Wide (flaring) nostrils when breathing

  • Blue color around the lips

Call the doctor if your child has wheezing and problems eating or drinking, but none of the warning signs.

What causes wheezing in children?

If the wheezing keeps coming back, it’s usually caused by:

Less common causes of wheezing include:

What will happen at my child’s doctor visit?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your child’s wheezing and if other family members have allergies or asthma. Doctors will also do a physical exam.

What tests will my child need?

The first time your child has wheezing, doctors may do one or more tests:

If doctors are sure your child's wheezing is caused by asthma, they don't usually do tests each time your child has some wheezing.

If the wheezing keeps coming back and isn't helped by asthma medicines, doctors may do other tests:

How do doctors treat wheezing in children?

Doctors may have your child use an inhaler to breathe in medicines that open the breathing passages. These are the same medicines used for asthma, but they also work for wheezing that isn't caused by asthma. If your child’s wheezing is severe, doctors may also give corticosteroids through an IV or by mouth.

Inhalers

Inhalers (also called metered-dose inhalers) are small, hand-held devices. They are the most common way to take asthma medicines. They turn medicine into a fine spray your child can breathe. An inhaler that has a spacer or holding chamber is easier to use.

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