Allergy Wheezing: Causes, Diagnosis, and Prevention (2023)
Allergies can cause a wide range of symptoms, including congestion, coughing, and sneezing. But can allergies cause shortness of breath and wheezing? Continue reading to learn how allergies can cause difficulty breathing.
Can Allergies Cause Wheezing?
Yes, allergies can cause wheezing. Wheezing is a condition in which the person experiences difficulty breathing due to narrowing or constriction of their airways. Allergies can cause transient wheezing as the immune system reacts to environmental allergens like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.
Some people also experience wheezing from food allergies. The immune system typically triggers inflammation in the nose and throat, which leads to the narrowing of the airway and the production of a high-pitched whistling sound from airflow obstruction.
What Does Allergy Wheezing Feel Like?
Allergy wheezing can be incredibly uncomfortable and can have a distinct sound. It can be described as a noisy or whistling sound coming from the chest. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the noise can range from a mild rattle to loud and tight breaths.
Allergy Wheezing Symptoms
Allergy wheezing can manifest in a variety of ways, such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Chest tightness
- Coughing continuously
You may also experience a hoarse vocal quality due to excess mucus production. You'll experience wheezing sounds when exhaling and a whistling sound while inhaling, and sometimes these symptoms can be accompanied by watery and itchy eyes. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on a person's sensitivity to their allergies.
How Do Allergies Make You Wheeze?
Wheezing due to allergies can be a frustrating experience. Learning the specific cause of your wheezing can help you find the best treatment and remedy. There are several different ways that allergies can cause wheezing and shortness of breath. The most common reasons include:
Allergic reactions can cause nasal congestion, which in turn can lead to wheezing. Your nasal passages become inflamed and swollen, making it harder for air to flow through them. When you have a stuffy nose, you can produce a wheezing sound when breathing.
Allergic rhinitis is a medical condition in which the lining of your nose becomes irritated due to allergens in the air, such as pollen or mold spores. Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and wheezing.
If you have asthma, your allergic reactions will likely trigger an asthma attack, which could cause wheezing symptoms. During an attack, asthma symptoms may include swollen and tight airway muscles, resulting in reduced airflow and dyspnea. The tightness of these muscles also causes a whistling sound when you exhale.
Allergic reactions usually cause an increase in mucus production, which can lead to further narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing properly – both of which may result in a wheezing sound when exhaling or coughing. Increased mucus production also means more debris is trapped in your respiratory system, and breathing becomes hard, hence the wheezing sound.
Allergens cause bronchoconstriction, which occurs when your bronchial tube muscles become constricted, blocking off the airways and making breathing difficult. The wheezing happens as a result of this blockage and can worsen if left untreated over time.
Airway inflammation narrows the airways even further than normal and reduces airflow even more than other causes mentioned earlier on this list. The reduction in airflow will cause labored breathing with a noticeable whistling sound while exhaling due to increased pressure within the chest cavity.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by viruses or bacteria, which can occur after an allergic reaction. Symptoms of pneumonia include dyspnea, coughing, fever, and wheezing.
What Else Causes Wheezing?
Wheezing is usually a sign of an underlying problem in the respiratory system. While allergic asthma is the most common cause of wheezing, other issues can also cause this irritating and often uncomfortable symptom. Let's explore what else could be causing those pesky wheezes.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
COPD is a progressive lung condition that makes breathing difficult due to inflammation and airflow obstruction. It's often caused by smoking or long-term exposure to other environmental pollutants. Symptoms can range from mild wheezing and coughing to severe dyspnea.
Reactive Airway Disease (RAD)
RAD can also cause wheezing in some cases. This medical condition occurs when the airways become inflamed due to triggers like allergies or smoke exposure. As a result, they swell up and constrict airflow into the lungs, which can lead to an episode of wheezing and rapid breathing. RAD is most common in children but can also affect adults.
Lung cancer is another common cause of wheezing, especially if it has spread to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumors can block air passages, leading to rapid breathing or wheezing. If you experience wheezing along with other symptoms such as coughing up blood or fatigue, you should see your doctor for evaluation as soon as possible.
Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
CF is an inherited condition that affects the lungs and digestive system and is a leading cause of wheezing in children and adults alike. CF leads to thick mucus build-up in the lungs, which can make breathing difficult and result in chronic coughing and wheezing episodes.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
CHF is a serious condition where your heart cannot pump enough blood throughout your body due to weakened heart muscle or other factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes. CHF leads to fluid buildup in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult and often results in a characteristic rattling sound when exhaling (wheezing).
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease or chronic acid reflux. This is when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, irritating it and causing various symptoms—including wheezing. People with GERD may also experience other symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing.
Tobacco smoke contains a variety of irritants that can cause inflammation in the airways, leading to wheezing. Smoking also increases mucus in the lungs and throat, further exacerbating wheezing symptoms.
Anaphylaxis is one possible cause of wheezing. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to something in the environment, such as certain foods or medications. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, swelling of the throat and lips, and lightheadedness or dizziness.
Emphysema is a chronic lung disease that occurs when the walls between the tiny air sacs in your lungs become damaged due to long-term exposure to pollutants like cigarette smoke or other irritants in the air. Over time, these damaged walls make it harder for oxygen to reach your bloodstream, leading to shortness of breath and a cough that produces phlegm (sputum). Wheezing may also occur as a result of emphysema.
While anyone can experience wheezing, certain risk factors can increase the chances of having an episode. Knowing these risk factors can help you better prepare for any potential issues with your breathing.
- Allergen exposure: One of the most common causes of wheezing is allergic reactions to dust mites, pollen, or other environmental allergens. People sensitive to these allergens may experience wheezing when they come into contact with them, as their bodies respond with an inflammatory response to fight off the allergen. To reduce your risk of wheezing due to allergens, try to keep your home as free from your allergy triggers as possible.
- Age: Wheezing is most common among children under the age of five, particularly those who have been exposed to secondhand smoke or suffer from allergies. But adults are not immune to wheezing either; as you grow older, the muscles surrounding your airways become weaker and less flexible, making it more difficult to breathe normally.
- Allergy severity: Allergies—especially hay fever—can trigger wheezing because they cause inflammation in your airways, making it harder to breathe. If you know that you have severe allergies, make sure to take the necessary precautions during allergy season (such as taking antihistamines) to reduce your chances of experiencing an episode of wheezing.
- Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure: Smoking is one of the leading causes of wheezing because it irritates and inflames your airways, making it difficult for air to pass through them normally. Secondhand smoke exposure can also increase the likelihood of developing wheezing symptoms due to its irritating effects on the respiratory system.
- Asthma and other respiratory issues: Asthma is one of the most common causes of wheezing because it affects how much air reaches your lungs and how quickly you can get rid of carbon dioxide from your body. Other respiratory issues, such as cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can also lead to episodes of wheezing due to their impact on lung function and breathing efficiency.
- Air pollution: Air pollution has been linked with an increased risk of developing respiratory issues such as asthma. Exposure to polluted air can make you more likely to experience episodes of wheezing too. To reduce this risk factor, try staying indoors when the pollution levels outside are particularly high or invest in a good quality HEPA filter.
When to See a Doctor
If you experience wheezing, it may be advisable to consult with a doctor depending on the severity and duration of symptoms. Mild wheezing can often result from allergies and can usually be treated with medications such as antihistamines or nasal sprays. However, if your allergy wheezing is persistent and accompanied by other symptoms, such as chest tightness, or blue lips/fingertips, seek immediate medical attention, as this could indicate a potentially serious underlying condition.
How Is Wheezing From Allergies Diagnosed?
To diagnose allergies-related wheezing, a doctor may first check your family history to look into potential causes such as allergies and asthma. The doctor can then perform a physical exam, such as listening to the lungs for any irregularities with a stethoscope or ordering respiratory allergy tests. In some cases, allergy testing may help identify what is causing the wheezing. If you suspect allergies cause your wheezing, consider taking an at-home allergy test.
At Wyndly, our allergy doctors will use an at-home allergy test to determine exactly what allergy triggers are causing your symptoms. After identifying your allergy triggers, our team of allergy experts will create a personalized treatment plan to help you live free from your allergy symptoms.
If you're wheezing, it's important to understand the various treatment options available so you can choose the one that's right for you. Here are some of the different treatments for wheezing allergies.
Lifestyle changes include avoiding allergy triggers such as dust mites, pollen, mold, and dander as much as possible. Avoid activities that cause you to breathe heavily until your symptoms improve. Additionally, eating healthy foods, exercising regularly (with caution), drinking plenty of fluids, and getting enough sleep may help.
Several prescribed medications can treat wheezing, including bronchodilators, anti-inflammatory drugs, and corticosteroids. Bronchodilators help open up your airways and make it easier to breathe. Anti-inflammatory medicines reduce inflammation in your lungs and help prevent further irritation.
Corticosteroids are used when other forms of medication don't work, as they suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation in the lungs. Leukotriene modifiers are medications that block certain chemicals in your body (called leukotrienes) from narrowing your airways and causing swelling in your lungs.
Inhalers deliver medication directly into your lungs through a mist or spray. They often treat allergic asthma or other respiratory conditions that cause wheezing. Inhalers come in two forms: metered dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs). MDIs use pressurized gas to deliver the medication, while DPIs rely on your breath to inhale the medicine into your lungs.
Oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen through a mask or nasal cannula to increase oxygen levels in your blood and help you breathe more easily. Oxygen therapy can also help reduce swelling in your lungs caused by an infection or other condition that may be causing your wheezing symptoms.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) is a form of immunotherapy that treats allergies by administering the allergen through drops or tablets placed under the tongue. This treatment plan desensitizes your immune system by exposing it to small amounts of your allergy triggers over an extended period. This helps reduce the body's reaction when that allergen is encountered in the future and eventually results in long-term allergy relief.
Take Our Allergy Assessment
If you are experiencing wheezing due to allergies and are looking for lifelong relief, choose Wyndly. Our allergy doctors will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan to help you live allergy-free.
Take our allergy assessment today to discover how Wyndly can help manage your allergy symptoms!