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What Other Causes of Wheezing Might Be Leading to My Child's Symptoms?

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Updated June 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Other Causes of Wheezing Might Be Leading to My Child's Symptoms?
Answer:

While asthma can be one of the causes of wheezing in your child, wheezing can also be caused by a number of other conditions and infections. The exact causes of wheezing will vary depend on your child's age. In fact, the younger your child the greater the chance that wheezing is due to something besides asthma.

What Wheezing Sounds Like

Wheezing occurs when a child breaths out. (Listen: What Wheezing Sounds Like Video)

If your child is wheezing, make sure that you get it checked out by her doctor.

Take note, though, that what you think may be wheezing may actually be a different breathing pattern -- in particular, what's known as inspiratory stridor. In this inspiratory stridor video, notice how the sound is different and occurs when the infant breathes in. You may also notice the baby's chest going inward, which is called a retraction.

Causes of Wheezing- Upper Airway Obstruction

  • Enlarged adenoids or tonsils- These are less common in infants and more common in preschool children. They often produce snoring.
  • Croup- Croup is commonly mistaken as wheezing by parents of 6-month to 3-year-olds. Rather than a true wheeze, you are actually inspiratory stridor. Parents often describe this as a 'croupy' or 'barking' cough that typically accompanies the stridor.
  • Inhalation of foreign body into the lung- This is most common in toddlers beginning to explore their environment who are still put everything in their mouths. Swallowing objects is not very common before reaching the toddler stage.
  • Tracheomalacia- A weakness of the windpipe's walls, this is most common in infants and, like croup, causes inspiratory stridor.
  • Vascular ring or congenital stridor- Likewise, the sounds created from these conditions are often confused with wheezing but are most commonly inspiratory stridor; the windpipe becomes compressed by the abnormal blood vessel.
  • Pertussis - This is a series of coughs followed by an inspiratory whoop. (Video: Example of Pertussis Cough).

Causes of Wheezing- Lower Airway Obstruction

Causes of Wheezing - Chronic Illnesses

  • Congenital heart disease - While not a respiratory illness, congenital heart disease can lead to congestive heart failure and pulmonary edema that causes wheezing. Sometimes this will occur in infants around a month old with a ventricular septal defect, the most common congenital heart defect. These kids are often initially misdiagnosed with bronchiolitis.
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Tuberculosis
  • Direct compression of lung tissue from enlarged lymph nodes or conditions such as Hodgkin's disease; this most commonly occurs in teenagers and young adults.

Sources:

Avila P. Differential diagnosis of wheezing in children. Lippincotts Prim Care Practice 1998;2:559-77.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: February 21, 2010. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma

Weinberger M. Clinical patterns and natural history of asthma. J Pediatr 2003;142 (2 Suppl): S15-S20.

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