Wheezing is a common complaint. It is especially common in smokers and those with COPD. We will talk about young non-smoking patients first.
For those of you under 30 who exercise and wheeze when you get real tired, this is called Exercise-Induced Asthma. If you only wheeze when you are exercising in the cold, it is called Cold-Induced Asthma. Or, if you are like the author, you can have both. There are preventative inhalers and other medications that can help. Your doctor will guide you if it is bad.
Some children just have Asthma for no apparent reason. In that case, you will need to see your Pediatrician.
If you never wheezed before and are relatively young and get the flu or some really bad cold, you could find yourself wheezing. If it is mild and temporary, that is good. If it gets real hard to breathe, see your doctor quickly. If you are coughing up colored phlegm and have a fever or chills, you better pay a visit to an Urgent Care or your doctor.
If you are young and wheeze and can’t stop sneezing, you might be allergic to something. That something could be in the air, like animal dander, dust mites, mold, grass, tree pollen, or it could be a food. Most common food allergies are dairy products and shellfish. Some patients are allergic to Gluten found in flour and wheat.
In very rare cases, wheezing in young women who recently had a baby can be caused by weakness in your heart muscle called a Peri, or Post-Partum Cardiomyopathy. This would usually be accompanied by shortness of breath and some swelling in your feet.
Gradual onset of wheezing caused by some congenital problem with the heart usually is diagnosed by a pediatrician, so that would be very rare in a younger person around 20-30 years old.
Now for the older folks and smokers. If you smoke, you will likely get COPD, and you will likely wheeze and cough. Sometimes the cough is productive, sometimes not. The treatment is using inhalers, sometimes steroids, and, of course, stop smoking. If you have COPD and the phlegm turns yellow, brown or green, see your doctor.
Some older patients develop asthma later in life. There can be an allergic cause in food, or something you breathe in, or it can be something we can’t figure out. If it is severe, you will need medications most likely. Usually, the doctor will start with a rescue inhaler and ramp up to stronger inhalers and even inhaled steroids when necessary. If you have severe wheezing and do not smoke or have other lung diseases, and you have carpet in your house with or without pets, get the carpet out. Old carpet can hold allergens that can set your wheezing off. If you are exposed to harsh chemicals at work, and note that the wheezing starts right when you walk in, it is likely the chemical. Some patients are especially sensitive to some perfumes. Some patients can develop food allergies later in life, especially to dairy products, but gluten in wheat and flour is common as well.
So if you have known lung disease and wheeze, it is likely the lung disease causing it. If you don’t and you just started wheezing, be on the lookout for something you are allergic to whether in the air or what you might be eating or drinking. Usually, a correlation can be made when attention is paid. Also be aware of the medications you are taking for other health conditions, as many of these medications can cause you to wheeze or make it worse.
Lastly, if you are older, have heart or kidney disease, or are a diabetic and wake up wheezing, have a doctor look at your heart and kidneys.