Wheezing Overview Practice Questions Vector

Wheezing: Overview and Practice Questions (2024)

by | Updated: May 29, 2024

Wheezing, characterized by a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing, is a common symptom indicating airway obstruction or narrowing.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of the various causes of wheezing, including bronchospasm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and more severe conditions like heart failure or foreign body aspiration.

Understanding these causes is crucial for healthcare professionals as it guides effective treatment strategies. Additionally, this article will include practice questions on wheezing to help reinforce the knowledge and diagnostic skills related to this respiratory symptom.

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What is Wheezing?

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made during breathing, often due to narrowed or obstructed airways. Common causes include asthma, COPD, respiratory infections, and allergic reactions. It is often accompanied by shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. Treatment targets the underlying cause and may involve medications or lifestyle changes.

Wheezing Bronchoconstriction Airways Vector Illustration


Wheezing can be caused by a variety of conditions that affect the airways and lungs. Some common causes include:

  • Bronchospasm: This refers to the tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways. It is often seen in asthma and can also occur as a reaction to allergens, irritants, or infections.
  • Asthma: A chronic condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, and coughing. Asthma triggers can include allergens, cold air, exercise, and stress.
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): This term covers several progressive lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Airflow is obstructed, leading to breathing difficulty, wheezing, and coughing.
  • Bronchitis: Inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by infections, while chronic bronchitis is a form of COPD.
  • Bronchiectasis: A condition where parts of the bronchial walls are permanently enlarged and inflamed, often filled with mucus, leading to recurrent infections and wheezing.
  • Cystic Fibrosis: A genetic disorder that causes severe damage to the lungs and digestive system. It leads to the accumulation of thick, sticky mucus in the airways, causing wheezing and difficulty breathing.
  • Foreign Body Aspiration: Occurs when a small object is inhaled into the airways, typically in children. This can cause a sudden onset of wheezing and needs immediate medical attention.
  • Heart Failure: While primarily a cardiovascular condition, heart failure can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs (pulmonary edema), which can cause wheezing and breathlessness.

Note: Identifying and treating the underlying cause of wheezing is crucial for effective management and relief of symptoms.

Treatment for Wheezing

The treatment for wheezing depends largely on its underlying cause. When wheezing is a result of bronchospasm, as often seen in conditions like asthma or COPD, bronchodilators are typically used to relax the muscles around the airways and open them up, facilitating easier breathing.

In cases where wheezing is due to congestive heart failure (CHF) or fluid overload, diuretics are administered to help the body remove excess fluid, while positive inotropic agents are used to improve heart function, thereby reducing pulmonary congestion.

If wheezing is caused by a foreign body in the airways, particularly if it results in unilateral wheezing, a bronchoscopy is necessary. This procedure allows doctors to look directly into the airways and remove the obstruction.

Note: Each treatment targets the specific cause of wheezing, emphasizing the importance of an accurate diagnosis for effective management of this symptom.

Wheezing Practice Questions

1. What is the definition of wheezing?
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made while breathing, typically caused by the narrowing or obstruction of the airways.

2. What are the causes of bronchoconstriction?
Bronchoconstriction can be caused by bronchospasm, mucosal edema, inflammation, tumors, foreign bodies, and pulmonary edema.

3. What does it indicate if a patient’s wheezing is very high-pitched during the entire expiratory time before treatment and becomes lower in pitch and duration after treatment?
This indicates that the bronchodilator is working and the patient’s condition has improved.

4. What is bilateral wheezing?
Bilateral wheezing refers to wheezing heard on both sides of the chest, indicating a generalized airway obstruction.

5. What is unilateral wheezing?
Unilateral wheezing refers to wheezing heard only on one side of the chest, often suggesting a localized obstruction, such as from a foreign body or tumor.

6. What is recommended for bilateral wheezing?
A bronchodilator is recommended for bilateral wheezing.

7. What is recommended for unilateral wheezing?
A bronchoscopy is recommended for unilateral wheezing to investigate and remove any obstruction.

8. What could cause a foreign body obstruction?
A foreign body obstruction could be caused by a bronchial mass (such as lung cancer) or a swallowed object.

9. What diseases can cause wheezing?
Diseases that can cause wheezing include Cystic Fibrosis, Bronchitis (Chronic), Asthma, Bronchiectasis, and Emphysema (CBABE).

10. What is a monophonic wheeze?
A monophonic wheeze is a wheeze that originates from a single airway partially obstructed, heard during inhalation and/or exhalation.

11. What is a polyphonic wheeze?
A polyphonic wheeze suggests that many airways are obstructed, typically heard during exhalation only, and is commonly associated with conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and CHF with pulmonary edema.

12. What is a wheeze?
A wheeze is a high-pitched noise that occurs when a person inhales and exhales due to the narrowing of the airway from the lungs. Air squeezing through the smaller spaces produces a squeaky or whistling sound, which can be heard with or without a stethoscope. A person who is wheezing may also experience chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and repeated coughing.

13. What are the main causes of wheezes?
The main causes of wheezes are inflammation, infection, irritation, injury, and illness.

14. What are the five I’s?
The five I’s are Inflammation, Infection, Irritation, Injury, and Illness.

15. How does inflammation cause wheezing?
Inflammation, such as that seen in asthma, causes wheezing by making the airways sensitive to environmental triggers, leading to swelling, increased mucus production, and spasms of the bronchial tubes. These triggers can include allergens like pollen, mold, and animal dander, as well as pollutants, physical activity, emotional stress, and certain medications. When air passes through the narrowed bronchial tubes, wheezes can be heard.

16. How does irritation cause wheezing?
Irritation from allergies, which are the immune system’s reaction to foreign invaders, narrows the bronchial tubes and leads to wheezing. The reaction produces antibodies and other components to fight against the substances, causing airway irritation. Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis. Substances causing this reaction include foods, medications, insect stings, and cigarette smoke.

17. How does infection cause wheezing?
Infections in the respiratory tract, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, cause wheezing by narrowing the airways due to mucus production. Germs like bacteria, viruses, and fungi trigger the body to secrete mucus to fight against them and prevent germs from entering tissue spaces. The lining of the bronchial tubes becomes thick from the secretions, restricting airflow and producing wheezes.

18. How does injury cause wheezing?
Injuries to the lungs can lead to wheezing. For example, aspiration (inhaling a foreign object) can cause wheezing when only a small amount of air can pass around it, leading to complications like pneumonia and obstructed airways. In emphysema, damage to the lung air sacs disrupts normal airflow, resulting in wheezing.

19. How does illness cause wheezing?
Illnesses affecting air passage through the lungs can cause wheezing. In sleep apnea, throat muscles relax during sleep, blocking airflow. In epiglottitis, an infection causes swelling of the windpipe lid. Heart failure leads to excess fluid buildup in the lung air sacs, blocking airflow. These conditions can all result in wheezing when air flow is obstructed.

20. How to treat wheezing that occurs as a result of bronchospasm?
It should be treated with bronchodilators.

21. How to treat wheezing that occurs as a result of CHF/fluid overload?
It should be treated with diuretics and positive inotropic agents

22. How to treat wheezing that occurs as a result of a foreign body?
It requires a bronchoscopy for treatment.

23. During the assessment of a 72-year-old postoperative patient, you noticed distinct wheezing in both lung fields. Which of the following would you recommend?
Administer a bronchodilator

24. A 45-year-old asthmatic patient presents with severe wheezing despite using their rescue inhaler. What should be your next course of action?
Administer systemic corticosteroids.

25. During a routine check-up, a 60-year-old patient with a history of COPD reports increased wheezing and shortness of breath. 
What would be an appropriate recommendation?
Adjust the dosage of the patient’s maintenance bronchodilator.

26. During the assessment of a 50-year-old patient with congestive heart failure, you noticed wheezing and crackles upon auscultation. Which of the following would you recommend?
Administer a diuretic

27. During the assessment of a child presenting with wheezing and a barking cough, they are suspected to have croup. Which of the following would you recommend?
Administer nebulized epinephrine

28. During the assessment of an elderly patient with a history of bronchiectasis, you noticed persistent wheezing unresponsive to bronchodilators. What further evaluation should be considered?
Perform a chest CT scan to check for underlying infections or obstructions

29. During the assessment of a patient with wheezing, high-pitched breath sounds, and a history of smoking, they are suspected of having COPD. What diagnostic test would you recommend?
Conduct spirometry to assess lung function

30. During the assessment of a patient presenting with wheezing and a productive cough, they are diagnosed with acute bronchitis. Which of the following would you recommend?
Prescribe an inhaled bronchodilator and encourage hydration

31. What does bilateral wheezing indicate?
Bilateral wheezing typically indicates bronchospasm and can be treated with a short-acting bronchodilator.

32. What does unilateral wheezing indicate?
Unilateral wheezing is an indication of a foreign body obstruction. In this case, you should recommend a bronchoscopy.

33. A 2-year-old boy was admitted to the emergency department showing signs of respiratory distress. Upon assessment, you heard wheezes in the right lung and normal lung sounds on the left side. Which of the following would you recommend?
Rigid bronchoscopy

34. During the assessment of a 67-year-old female patient, you noticed peripheral edema and wheezing on auscultation. Which of the following is the most likely cause of these findings?
Fluid overload

35. A 42-year-old female patient has been showing signs of dyspnea and wheezing for the past 24 hours. A bronchodilator was administered, but her condition did not improve. This describes which of the following conditions?
Status asthmaticus

36. A 57-year-old patient with a history of CHF presents to the emergency room with dyspnea, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Which of the following would you recommend?
Furosemide (Lasix)

37. During the assessment of a 72-year-old postoperative patient, you noticed distinct wheezing in both lung fields. Which of the following would you recommend?
Administer a bronchodilator

38. What is the first-line treatment for an acute asthma exacerbation causing wheezing?
Administer a short-acting beta-agonist (SABA), such as albuterol.

39. What diagnostic tool is most useful for identifying the cause of persistent wheezing in a non-smoker with no history of asthma?
Perform a chest X-ray to rule out structural abnormalities or other underlying conditions.

40. How does chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cause wheezing?
COPD causes wheezing through the combination of bronchial inflammation, increased mucus production, and loss of lung elasticity, leading to narrowed airways.

41. What is the role of corticosteroids in the management of wheezing?
Corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the airways, helping to prevent and control wheezing episodes.

42. In what condition is wheezing most likely to be accompanied by stridor?
Croup, which is characterized by a barking cough and stridor, often seen in children.

43. What are the potential side effects of using bronchodilators for wheezing?
Potential side effects include tremors, tachycardia, headache, and palpitations.

44. Why might a patient with wheezing be prescribed a leukotriene receptor antagonist?
Leukotriene receptor antagonists, like montelukast, help reduce inflammation and bronchoconstriction, especially in asthma patients.

45. What lifestyle modifications can help reduce the frequency of wheezing episodes in asthmatic patients?
Avoiding allergens, smoking cessation, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce wheezing.

46. What is the significance of nocturnal wheezing in patients with asthma?
Nocturnal wheezing indicates poorly controlled asthma and may require adjustment of the patient’s medication regimen.

47. How can a peak flow meter be used in the management of wheezing?
A peak flow meter measures the patient’s maximum speed of expiration, helping to monitor asthma control and detect early signs of exacerbations.

48. During an asthma attack, what changes might you observe in peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR)?
You would observe a decreased PEFR, indicating airway obstruction and reduced airflow.

49. What is the role of anticholinergic medications in the treatment of wheezing?
Anticholinergic medications, like ipratropium, help to relax and widen the airways, reducing wheezing, especially in COPD patients.

50. How can environmental control measures help in managing wheezing in patients with allergic asthma?
Environmental control measures, such as using air purifiers, reducing exposure to allergens (dust mites, pet dander), and avoiding outdoor activities during high pollen counts, can help minimize triggers and reduce wheezing episodes.

Final Thoughts

Recognizing and appropriately treating wheezing is vital for managing patients with respiratory complaints effectively.

By exploring the various causes of wheezing, healthcare providers can tailor interventions to address the specific underlying cause.

The practice questions provided in this article aim to enhance clinical judgment and ensure readiness to handle cases of wheezing in diverse clinical scenarios, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


  • Patel PH, Mirabile VS, Sharma S. Wheezing. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024.

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