Wheezing is a general health condition that a lot of people experience, especially quite common in little children. It’s a whistling sound made while breathing that could occur either as a symptom of a disease or due to other causes and conditions. Common as it is, a disease by any other name is still a disease and should be prevented at all costs. Prevention becomes effective when the condition of a disease is understood from the grassroots level. So [Dr. Kosala Karunaratna, Consultant Paediatrician, Lady Ridgeway Hospital, Colombo] answered all questions, from the cause to the cure, that breeze their way into inquiring minds on this wheezy threat.
According to Dr. Karunaratna, wheezing is a continuous whistling sound produced in the respiratory airways of the lungs during breathing. “Narrowing or obstruction of respiratory pathways leads to the wheezing sound,” he stressed.
Dr. Karunaratna listed several reasons for wheezing. “Wheezing could arise due to allergies to various stimulants such as dust. External factors such as foreign bodies from the environment could result in blocking of respiratory passages. This leads to wheezing as well. These factors include dust, microscopic organisms known as mites, viral illnesses, environmental pollution and even drugs such as aspirin and other painkillers like Brufen. Intrinsic factors such as Genetics and a family history of wheezing give reason to a higher probability of contracting the condition. Lung diseases, mainly asthma, hold wheezing as a symptom.”
Signs and symptoms
The most obvious telltale sign of wheezing is of course the whistling sound made during breathing. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and the tightening of the chest.
Dr. Karunaratna stated that wheezing is diagnosed mostly through symptoms shown by patients rather than tests. “Wheezing is mostly diagnosed by symptoms though sometimes tests are also done to confirm the condition. Tests are performed to determine disorders when wheezing becomes a recurring issue. Tests can also confirm a patient’s allergies that cause wheezing. But wheezing is commonly diagnosed by symptoms,” he said.
Treatment and cure
When wheezing is a symptom of a disease like asthma, it should be controlled. “A common treatment method is the use of inhalers. There are 2 types of inhalers namely relievers and preventers. Relievers are inhalers used at the moment the symptoms show, when wheezing is aggravated. Preventers are inhalers that have to be used on a long term basis to keep the wheezing condition suppressed,” stated Dr. Karunaratna.
There is a particular procedure that has to be followed when using an inhaler. Wheezing is very common among children and sometimes the inhaler may not be administered properly in small children. To serve the purpose of using the inhaler properly and effectively in small kids, a device known as a spacer is used with the inhaler. This ensures high effectiveness of the inhaler in the treatment of wheezing in children.
Dr. Karunaratna also mentioned that long term wheezing is also treated with oral medicines. During instances where wheezing is highly aggravated- where a patient finds difficulty in breathing and talking and complains of chest pains-nebulisation is called for.
Path to prevention
Intrinsic as well as extrinsic factors contribute to the development of the wheezing condition. While intrinsic factors such as genetics and family history can’t be controlled, Dr. Karunaratna accentuated that steps can be taken to prevent wheezing with regards to extrinsic factors which are responsible for causing wheezing. Factors like house dust and dust mites that trigger wheezing can be prevented through regular dusting, cleaning and good ventilation.
A good lifestyle and behavioural patterns can be adopted to keep away from other illnesses, especially viral ones. “Animal fur and saliva, especially from cats, can also trigger wheezing in individuals. Therefore people who keep pets at home have to be mindful of hygiene and cleanliness of the home environment,” Dr. Karunaratna stressed further.