Baby Wheezing

Wheezing is a high pitched whistling sound that generates from the chest when your baby breathes. Wheezing is quite common in infants. Continue reading to know the causes and treatment of baby wheezing.

Last Updated: Oct 22, 2020 11:29 GMT

Baby Wheezing
Baby Wheezing
Baby Wheezing

Parents may be scared hearing their children wheezing. But wheezing is quite common in children and it is estimated that approximately 25 to 30% of infants experience at least one episode of wheezing. Wheezing is due to obstruction in the airways. Since children’s lungs are small, the chances of airway obstruction are higher in them than in the adults.

Wheezing occurs during an exhalation. It is normally seen when the lower airway passages in the lungs are blocked or narrowed. The narrowing is due to the tiny bits of dried mucus or swelling of tissues in the airways.  It is important to pay attention if your child has a consistent whistle like noise or breaths that is accompanied by a rattling sound.

Causes of Wheezing Allergies

When your child is exposed to any air pollutants like pollen or dust, allergic reactions can happen. Her immune system tries to defend against the allergen. During this allergic reaction, narrowing of airways can happen. This narrowing generates a whistling sound. Also allergies can create extra phlegm. Since babies find it difficult to blow their nose and clear their throat, this phlegm can accumulate in the narrow nasal passages. There may not be a true wheezing if the phlegm stays only in the nose or throat and not in the lungs.


During the winter season, your child may develop a lower respiratory infection called bronchiolitis. It is usually caused by a virus and results in inflammation of the bronchioles in the lungs. A child may develop a cough when she has bronchiolitis. The wheezing that is caused by bronchiolitis may take some time to subside.


Sometimes wheezing can be an indicator of asthma. A child is more susceptible to asthma if there is a family history of asthma or if either of the child’s parents smoke or if the mother had a history of smoking during her pregnancy.  One episode of wheezing does not mean that the baby will develop asthma. If there is persistent wheezing, a doctor may recommend some investigations and will initiate treatment for your baby. 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

In this condition the stomach acid can leak back into the food pipe. During breathing, when this small amount of fluid enters the lungs, it results in irritation and swelling of the small airways, causing wheezing. It is always advisable to hold your baby in an upright position during feeding to avoid GERD.

Other causes of wheezing

·         Some chest infections can cause wheezing. When the infections are in the lower respiratory tract, it can lead to pneumonia and bronchiolitis. If your child is younger than six months and has a high fever (greater than 100.4°F) and shows signs of breathing difficulties, seek medical attention immediately.

·         Congenital conditions like cystic fibrosis, congenital vascular abnormalities, immunodeficiency diseases, primary ciliary dyskinesia, tracheobronchial anomalies and vocal cord dysfunction can cause wheezing

·         Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD): This condition is seen in premature babies who have underdeveloped lungs.

Symptoms of wheezing

Some of the common symptoms of baby wheezing include fever, runny nose, recurring cough, feeding difficulties and a high pitched wheezing sound.


Initially doctors perform a chest X-ray to look for signs of any foreign objects in the lungs. When the symptoms are not relieved by bronchodilators or any asthma drugs and if a child has frequent flare up, additional studies like swallowing studies and computed tomography or bronchoscopy will be performed.


Treatment depends upon the cause and severity of the disease.


Any congestion in the airways can be removed by using a humidifier. Humidifier adds moisture to the air.

Bulb Syringe

If congestion persists, using a bulb syringe may help to suck the mucus out of the upper airway. Since a baby’s nasal passages and airways are developing, it is very important to be gentle when using a bulb syringe.  It is also important to sanitize the bulb syringe after every use.


If infection is the cause for your baby’s wheezing, it is important to keep them hydrated. Give your child plenty of fluids. Fluids help to loosen the mucus and clear the nasal passages.


A nebulizer is prescribed if wheezing is due to asthma. It is a device that allows medicine to be inhaled as a mist. Medicines like albuterol are used to open up the airways and relieve symptoms of wheezing caused by asthma.  


If the wheezing is severe, bronchodilators and corticosteroids help relieve symptoms of wheezing. If the episodes of wheezing are rare and mild, inhaled bronchodilators can be used to control the symptoms.

When to get immediate medical attention?

If you notice the following symptoms, contact your pediatrician immediately.

·         Labored breathing

·         Bluish skin or lips

·         Rattling in the chest

·         Extreme fits of coughing

·         A sustained high fever

·         Dehydration





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