Healthy breathing at any age is carried out absolutely silently, without effort on the part of a person. We breathe without consciously following this process. However, sometimes breathing becomes difficult and abnormal noises appear. The most frightening and serious of them is the presence of whistles of various strengths and heights when breathing – on inhalation or exhalation.
How is breathing done?
There are many departments in our respiratory system, and in order to understand the causes of wheezing when breathing, you need to delve a little into anatomy and physiology.
Air first enters the nose, where it is warmed and purified. If the nose is not breathing well, mouth breathing is connected. Then the air passes through the pharynx into the larynx, where it bypasses the ajar vocal cords, enters the trachea, which looks like a hose from a vacuum cleaner – with soft and flexible rings, and through it into the bronchi, where it branches through a network of ever smaller ones, similar to tree branches, bronchi and enters the lungs, where gas exchange occurs.
When exhaling, the air returns in the reverse order.
Where does the whistle come from?
From the course of school physics, we remember that the stronger the resistance to air flow, the more effort is needed to push it through narrowed holes. In this case, due to friction and effort, pathological sounds will occur.
Whistles appear with forced breathing (which is produced with effort), and usually happens on exhalation. The result is a high-pitched characteristic sound that can be heard from a distance.
It results from impaired free conduction throughout the respiratory system, but usually in the posterior turbinates, larynx, trachea, or bronchi. Four main causes of airway narrowing can be identified:
- compression of them from the outside by a tumor, enlarged lymph nodes in the trachea, as a result of a chest injury,
- swelling of the wall of the bronchi or larynx,
- spasm of muscles in the larynx or bronchi,
- accumulation of viscous and viscous mucus or blockage of the lumen of any of the sections of the respiratory tract with a foreign body, mucus, purulent plug, tumor, polyp, etc.
As a result, the architecture of the respiratory tract changes dramatically, and more effort is required for air to pass through, and obstacles create sounds due to air turbulence.
Most often, wheezing occurs during attacks of bronchial asthma. This is a chronic disease of an allergic nature, in which a constant inflammation develops in the pulmonary system under the influence of allergens, which either fades or worsens.
Because of this, the walls of the bronchi are constantly swollen, since swelling always occurs with inflammation. In addition, when exposed to allergens – if the patient inhaled them, ate them with food, or they were absorbed from the skin, a spasm of the muscles of the bronchi occurs, which sharply impairs air permeability.
As a result, in order to saturate the blood with oxygen, the asthmatic breathes with effort, on exhalation he has whistles due to the sharp passage of the air flow through the narrowed bronchi. Additional whistles may come from lumps of phlegm that is released due to inflammation – it is thick and sticky – it turns out a kind of whistle, like a policeman. The appearance of whistles indicates a severe asthma attack, with it there is shortness of breath, there may be cyanosis (cyanosis of the face and fingertips), as well as metabolic disorders. The patient needs help – experienced asthmatics in this case carry inhalers with drugs that relieve swelling and spasm of the bronchi.
Wheezing: Possible Causes
Another common cause of wheezing is problems in the larynx. The vocal cords have a special structure, and the fiber around the larynx is very loose. All these features lead to swelling of the larynx with allergies – this is the so-called Quincke’s edema: fiber quickly, like a sponge, is saturated with lymph and blood plasma released from the vessels, which compresses the larynx from the outside, disrupting the passage of air.
Such reactions are possible to insect bites – wasps and bees, to the introduction of drugs intravenously, intramuscularly, as well as when inhaling allergens through the nose. The biggest danger of such reactions is their very rapid development – they form in 10-20 minutes and it is important to immediately call an ambulance, helping the victim before she arrives.
To do this, you need to put him on his side or back, unfasten all the clothes in the neck and chest and calm him down as much as possible. If possible, give him an antihistamine injection or at least give him an anti-allergic syrup or tablet.
Other causes of wheezing
Foreign body in the airways
If whistles appeared overnight, this may be a sign of a foreign body in the bronchi that got there from the outside, through the mouth or esophagus, or it is a foreign body formed inside the bronchi or trachea. From the outside, foreign bodies can get to small children who accidentally swallowed a small part of a toy, to adults with acute mental disorders, as well as to people in a state of alcoholic intoxication and, as they say, “for fun.”
Much more often, these are tumors of the respiratory system with decay or polyps, lumps of mucus with the transition of a fragment of a foreign body to another zone with blockage of the lumen.
Then whistles are formed on inhalation and exhalation, the sounds of cotton and a “silent lung” in the area below the foreign object, heard by the naked ear, attached to the chest. In this condition, immediate hospitalization to the department of surgery is necessary for bronchoscopy and removal of the body.
Typically, wheezing occurs in older people with heart and vascular disease, lung problems, and in chronic smokers due to the formation of chronic sclerotic bronchitis. As a result of many years of exposure to tar and smoke, the bronchi atrophy, turning into rigid tubes.
Whatever the causes of wheezing when breathing, they require attention and examination by a doctor. Emergency care is required if the patient turns blue, has asthma attacks, anxiety, confusion, agitation or severe lethargy, manifestations of a rash, swelling, and other rapidly growing symptoms. In such cases, call an ambulance immediately.