What Causes Wheezing in the Chest?

Wheezing is a high-pitched, whistling-type sound that occurs while breathing--typically when someone is breathing out. When the passageways for air narrow, wheezing is the result. It can be caused by a number of respiratory problems. Wheezing is a hallmark symptom of asthma, though it can be indicative of other illnesses.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.


Pneumonia occurs when the lungs become inflamed and irritated, typically by infection. This can lead to wheezing and coughing, and often occurs after a cold or illness. Normally the cough is hard enough to cough up phlegm and can occur with a fever as well. Because of the inflammation and infection in the lungs, it can be hard for the patient to breathe, which leads to constant or intermittent wheezing. Patients should consult a doctor immediately for proper treatment.


Asthma can cause wheezing as well. In fact, it is the most common cause of recurrent wheezing. It is important to note that individuals can have asthma and never show signs of wheezing--it is frequently a symptom of asthma, but not always. If you are wheezing because of diagnosed asthma, follow your established asthma treatment protocol. It's time to see your health care provider if you begin wheezing and suspect asthma because of other symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing or trouble sleeping.

Common Cold

The common cold can lead to wheezing when the chest becomes congested. This is different from pneumonia. The cold and the wheezing will go away on their own as long as the patient gets lots of rest and drinks plenty of liquids. The wheezing is caused by congestion, but there is no major inflammation or irritation in the lungs. However, a cold can turn into pneumonia; wheezing that continues for a long time should be checked out by a doctor.


Bronchitis is inflammation along the bronchial tubes--the tube that carries air back and forth to your lungs. Bronchitis often follows an initial cold or virus if it is considered acute and will resolve though, you may cough for weeks. Chronic cases of bronchitis--chronic inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes--are caused by smoking, air pollution, dust and toxic gases in the work place. Chronic bronchitis is considered serious. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue and chest discomfort.


Though unlikely, wheezing can be caused by a tumor or other form of cancer in the respiratory system. This is a rare case and is found most commonly in patients who smoke or use tobacco. Since wheezing is a common symptom of smokers, many do not seek treatment and don't realize they have lung cancer until it has reached an advanced stage. Symptoms may progress from wheezing to coughing up blood or chest pain.