If you have asthma, the sound of wheezing might be all too familiar to you. The wheeze is asthma’s classic “sound”. “A wheeze is the musical sound on expiration, when you’re breathing out, that indicates that you have airway obstruction,” says Richard Castriotta, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at the University of Texas Medical School. “It’s not just asthma that has a wheeze [associated with it], but it’s the sound that is most often associated with asthma in an asthma attack.” The sound is the result of air trying to force its way through your narrowed breathing passages as you try to exhale air from your lungs. It usually occurs during an exacerbation, a period of worsening symptoms or an asthma attack. If you notice and hear yourself wheezing, it is a sign that you shouldn’t ignore and take some action to improve your breathing. Most people are able to control their asthma symptoms, such as a wheeze, with an inhaler, which helps to open the airways to breathe more easily. Here are some other tips that can help you manage a wheeze or other asthma symptoms:
- Write an Asthma Action Plan: The plan is an outline of what medications or actions you should take when your symptoms flare up. Speak with your doctor about what you should do if you start to wheeze. Have this information written down so you or someone else can find it when it is needed.
- Know What Medications to Take: For most people, a rescue inhaler will help, however other medications may be necessary. Be sure to ask your doctor what medication you would need to have on hand, when you would need to use it, and how much you should take.
- Establish a back-up plan: In the event your rescue medications don’t help, have a back-up plan. Taking another puff of your rescue inhaler or another dose through a nebulizer isn’t a good idea if you didn’t have any relief from the medication. If you have followed your doctor’s instructions, your symptoms should wane, if not, then call your doctor or go to the emergency room.
- Identify Your Triggers: If you notice that an allergen or a certain trigger is setting off your wheezing, try to avoid it as soon as you can. Some triggers include cat dander, tobacco smoke, strong perfume, and chemicals that can irritate your airways.
- Determine What Situations Put You at Risk for an Exacerbation: It is also important to know when certain situations can put you at a greater risk of wheezing such as a viral respiratory infection which can trigger wheezing and other symptoms in a person with asthma.