Many things can cause babies to make a wheezing sound when they breathe because they have small airways. Normal breathing sounds for a baby can vary. When he’s sleeping, he may take slower, deeper breaths than when he’s awake and alert. Wheezing is not the same as heavy breathing. Occasional grunts or sighs are also not the same as wheezing.
Wheezing usually happens when your baby exhales. It happens when something blocks or narrows the lower airway passages in the lungs. Tiny bits of dried mucus can create a brief whistling noise when your baby breathes, for example. A lot of things can make your baby sound like they’re wheezing, but it is often hard to tell true wheezing without a stethoscope. Furthermore, a consistent whistle-like noise, or any breaths accompanied by a rattling sound, is reason to pay close attention and see if something more serious is going on.
Why is your baby wheezing? Here are the possible reasons:
Allergies can cause your baby’s body to create extra phlegm. Since your baby can’t blow his nose or clear his throat, this phlegm stays in his narrow nasal passages. If your baby has been exposed to an air pollutant or tried a new food, allergies might be what’s causing him to make a wheezing sound. It may not be true wheezing if the phlegm is only in the nose or throat and not the lungs. Further, allergies are uncommon in babies who are younger than one year.
Bronchiolitis is a lower respiratory infection your baby might have. It’s especially common in infants during the winter months. Bronchiolitis is typically caused by a virus. It’s when bronchioles in the lungs are inflamed. Congestion also occurs. If your baby has bronchiolitis, he might develop a cough.
It takes some time for the wheezing caused by bronchiolitis to go away. Most children get better at home. In a small percentage of cases, babies need to be hospitalized.
Sometimes, baby wheezing is an indicator of asthma. This is more likely if a child’s parents smoke or have a history of asthma themselves, or if the baby’s mother smoked when she was pregnant. One incidence of wheezing doesn’t mean your baby has asthma. But if your baby has continual wheezing episodes, your pediatrician may run some diagnostic tests.
In rarer cases, a baby’s wheezing sounds might indicate the presence of a chronic or congenital disease, such as cystic fibrosis. It might also indicate pneumonia or pertussis. If there is a serious illness at play, your baby will have other symptoms, too. Remember that any fever greater than 37°C is cause for a pediatrician visit (or at least a call) when your child is younger than six months.
Ways to treat baby's wheezing
The treatment for your baby’s wheezing will depend on the cause. If this is the first time your baby has wheezing, your doctor might allow you to try treating the symptoms at home before they prescribe medication. You can try the following at-home remedies:
The humidifier will put moisture into the air. Hydrating the air will help loosen any congestion that is causing your baby to wheeze.
If the congestion continues, a bulb syringe device might help suck some of the mucus out of the upper airway. Remember that your baby’s nasal passages and airways to the lungs are still developing. Be gentle. Always use a bulb syringe carefully, and make sure that it has been completely sanitized between uses.
If your baby is wheezing due to an infection, it’s important to keep them hydrated. Make sure that you give them plenty of liquids. Hydration will help loosen mucus and clear the nasal passages.
Your baby may also be prescribed the use of a nebulizer. Your doctor may recommend you use saline with it. A medication called albuterol is sometimes used, mixed with saline, to open up the airways. Albuterol mostly helps wheezing caused by asthma. It likely won’t decrease wheezing from other causes.
There are not many cold or cough medications that can be given safely to a baby. Administering acetaminophen or other products designed to break an infant’s fever will not help a cough or wheeze.
If you think your baby needs medical treatment, the best thing to do is talk to your pediatrician.
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