Wheezing manifests itself in the form of a high-pitched noise like whistling when a baby breathes. A baby wheezing when breathing sounds more like a wind blowing through a tunnel. It could also sound like a toy squeaking when squeezed. This whistling sound while breathing is common in babies and children. A wheezing sound in babies indicates that the airways are narrowed which forces the air through a tiny opening that causes the sound. The frequency and intensity of wheezing depend on the underlying causes. About 30% of infants do experience wheezing at least once. Asthma, infections, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), allergies are some common causes of wheezing.
What Is Wheezing in Infants?
Tiny breaths accompanied by a whistling sound is what characterizes wheezing in babies. Small airways, among other things, cause them to make a wheezing sound when they breathe. A few are common whilst some can be a cause of concern.
Breathing sounds in infants can vary. Babies generally take slow, deep breaths when they are asleep as compared to when they are awake. Wheezing is different from heavy breathing. A few grunts, snores or sighs are not the same as wheezing. Generally, wheezing occurs while exhaling. It occurs when the lower airway passages in the lungs are blocked or become narrow. Mucus in the baby’s nose could cause a noise when the baby breathes. Though many things could cause newborn babies wheezing issues, it is hard to ascertain it is wheezing without a stethoscope.
A consistent sound that sounds like whistling or breaths accompanied with a rattling sound needs to be investigated further.
Types of Baby Wheezing
Babies have small lungs, and their airways have less resistance. They have lower elastic recoil and scarcer collateral airways which makes them susceptible to blockage.
If a baby is wheezing when exposed to a pollutant in the environment like dust or hair, or if it is seasonal, it is likely to be wheezing caused by asthma or allergies.
If wheezing happens suddenly, it could be a result or reaction because of an infection in the respiratory tract or a foreign body.
Persistent wheezing from birth could suggest that the baby could have a congenital problem in their anatomy. Children who suffer persistently from wheezing or respiratory illnesses should get tested for cystic fibrosis or primary ciliary dyskinesia.
Causes of Baby Wheezing
A common symptom that indicates an abnormality in the breathing of the baby or issues in the respiratory tract, wheezing could be caused by infections or autoimmune disorders. Below are a few causes that could cause wheezing:
1. Viral or Bacterial Infections
Bacterial infections can cause inflammation and accumulation of mucous which narrows the airways. This can be aggravated to such an extent that the baby is unable to breathe in air. Viruses and bacteria that cause cold, tonsillitis, bronchitis, upper respiratory infection, and pneumonia could lead to wheezing issues.
Babies can be allergic to substances in the air. Airways which lead to the lungs, can react to allergen and lead to inflammation and secretion of additional mucus. This leads to shortness of breath and wheezing. Dust, dust mites, pet fur, dander, cockroaches, pollen, and mold are common allergens that babies can develop wheezing.
3. Diseases Genetically Inherited
Genetic diseases like asthma could cause wheezing in children as they inherit those genes. Asthma can also be triggered due to exposure to an allergen and could cause recurrent wheezing until the age of five. Cystic fibrosis is another inherited disease that causes wheezing. It generates mucous which blocks the airways.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic acid reflux problem where the stomach and stomach acid contents tend to flow through the esophagus into the throat. This causes irritation when it comes in touch with the airways. The irritation and blockage of the windpipe because of the stomach contents leads to wheezing.
5. Sleep Apnea
Where the obstruction in the airway, sleep apnea is can occur. A common condition arises owing to infection in tonsils and adenoids. Tissues expand, resulting in infection and press hard against the airway that leads to wheezing while breathing.
7. Cavities, Tumors, Respiratory Anomalies
Tumors in the throat, chest cavity, dysfunction in the vocal cord, upper respiratory tract anomalies, problems with the circulatory system, and congenital heart problems could be uncommon causes of wheezing.
8. Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia
This condition develops in premature babies who need ventilators and oxygen support as their lungs are underdeveloped at birth, often leading to wheezing in babies.
Signs of Wheezing in Infants
The most obvious sign of wheezing is the whistling or rattling sound when the baby inhales and exhales. But if the sound is not very audible and you suspect that your baby’s breathing is not normal, then the most common signs and symptoms of baby wheezing are:
- The baby will show faster belly movements than usual. One can even see the expansion and contraction of the chest.
- If you see the neck muscles tighten while breathing, it means the baby is distressed while breathing
- Nostrils flare up repeatedly and remain wide open. When the baby exhales, there is a whistling sound.
- Skin becomes pale, flushed, and blue. Sometimes it can even become red. This could be because of a lack of oxygen in the blood.
- Cold, cough, and fever
- Rapid heartbeat
- Lack of appetite
- Congestion in chest, runny nose, constant sneezing
- Itchy and watery eyes
- Throat pain and choking
When to Worry About a Baby’s Wheezing
Wheezing is common in babies when they are afflicted with cold or common respiratory infections. It generally disappears when the infection goes away. However, it can be a cause of concern in the following situations:
1. Wheezing When Eating
A baby wheezing while eating could indicate choking or food obstructing the airway, especially if they have never had a wheezing problem.
2. Wheezing When Alone
Babies must not be left alone, especially when they begin to crawl or walk. Babies can easily access small objects and are not aware of risks. Foreign objects can obstruct airways and cause choking or wheezing sounds when they breathe.
3. Wheezing When Sleeping or Eating
If wheezing does not let the baby sleep or eat properly, then it is a cause of worry.
4. Wheezing After a Missed Dose of Medication
Infants on medication for medical conditions need to be administered medication on time. If they miss a dose, then it could cause a surface of symptoms. Babies with asthma need an inhaler at all times for emergencies.
5. Discomfort all of a Sudden
If the baby suddenly develops wheezing and seems to have severe discomfort when breathing, you must consult a doctor immediately.
6. High Fever or Pneumonia
If your child has a temperature of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit and is having breathing difficulties, then there is cause to worry.
Diagnosis of Baby Wheezing
Wheezing can be a symptom of several conditions. The doctor needs to ascertain the cause. Any signs that you have seen will be of additional help to diagnose the issue. The doctor will perform a physical examination and run some routine tests to find out any problems. You could send blood samples or mucus samples for lab tests to check for signs of infection. A breathing test could help identify the root cause, and in some cases, multiple tests may be needed to reveal potential reasons.
Once identified, doctors will be able to prescribe the best course of treatment. You can treat any minor infection at home. Paracetamol, plenty of fluids, and rest could help alleviate symptoms of cold and flu. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and mild chest infections could also go away with over-the-counter medication. If symptoms are severe, the child may need to be hospitalized to be administered IV fluids or antibiotics. An oxygen mask would be prescribed if the child needs oxygen to breathe.
In most cases, persistent wheezing could be because of asthma, especially in slightly older children. The earliest symptoms of asthma are diagnosed at the age of five. Doctors initially suggest an inhaler to relieve symptoms as an easy and effective way to manage symptoms. Asthma is a long-term condition that needs to manage with a plan.
You may also need to identify the potential reasons for wheezing, which may not be very common. So any irregular pattern of breathing that seems to be like wheezing must be consulted with the doctor. If your child suffers repeated wheezing episodes, then you must consult a pulmonary or respiratory specialist.
How to Treat Wheezing in Babies
What to do for baby wheezing? How does one treat the condition in babies? Solutions to treat the wheezing problem for baby boys and girls include:
These work well with bacterial infections. If one strictly follows the course, it could help rid the root cause that caused the wheezing.
2. Prescribed Medication and Procedures for Treatment
Babies with conditions like asthma or cystic fibrosis will need a well-chalked-out treatment to control their wheezing condition. These conditions cannot be cured entirely but managed with proper medications and treatments. Wheezing could be controlled with the help of a nebulizer.
3. Surgery for Complex Conditions
Other severe causes for wheezing like infected adenoids and tonsils or sleep apnea would need corrective surgery. Surgery is not required if the condition can be treated with medications. Rare causes like congenital heart conditions could warrant surgery and some care after.
Humidifiers increase the moisture content in the air and help to reduce the risk of dryness. Dryness could cause difficulty in breathing thereby resulting in wheezing. Cool mist humidifiers could help infants with respiratory illnesses or infections.
5. Clear the Nose
With the help of saline drops and a bulb syringe, you could suck the mucus if the baby has a cold. It helps to clear the nostril, clearing the airways and helps the baby to breathe. Seek the advice of a pediatrician for the best saline drops for your child.
Home Remedies for Baby Wheezing
A few home remedies that will help with wheezing are:
1. Mustard Oil Massage
Mustard oil soothes breathing, improves blood circulation, and clears the respiratory tract.
What You Need
- A few tsp of mustard oil
How to Do
- Heat mustard oil and add camphor
- Once camphor dissolves, massage the baby’s chest for 10-15 minutes.
How Many Times
- 3 times a day
2. Raw Onions
Onions have a high content of sulphuric acid that fights infection, clears blocked airways and treats wheezing.
What You Need
- 1 raw onion
How to Do
- Cut onion and grind. Add it to baby food and feed your baby.
- Alternatively, you could also place a raw onion near the bed.
How Many Times
- Include in one meal of the day
3. Steam Bath
It has the same effect as a humidifier. It melts the mucus and clears the respiratory tract.
What You Need
How to Do
- Fill the bathtub with hot water.
- Add a few drops of eucalyptus/essential oil.
How Many Times
- Once a day
While you cannot completely prevent wheezing, there are some preventive measures that you can take:
- Protect baby from pathogens by keeping surroundings clean.
- Administer medication on time
- Take care to keep any object or food item that could risk choking away from children
- Any early signs that seem worrying, especially rapid breathing and restlessness must not be ignored
When Should You Call the Doctor?
Take your baby to a doctor if your baby is wheezing. Any diagnosis will help. Some symptoms need to be addressed quickly. Seek medical attention in the following circumstances:
- Flushed skin
- Rattling in chest
- High fever
- Severe allergic reaction
Wheezing in babies is a condition that needs to be addressed as it could be a minor or significantly harmful condition. If you are not sure of your baby’s breathing pattern, then make sure to seek an appointment with the doctor to rule out any possibilities.