What is the role of wheezing in the assessment of asthma?

Updated: Jan 07, 2019
  • Author: Michael J Morris, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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Answer

Wheezing, a musical, high-pitched, whistling sound produced by airflow turbulence, is one of the most common symptoms. In the mildest form, wheezing is only end expiratory. As severity increases, the wheeze lasts throughout expiration. In a more severe asthmatic episode, wheezing is also present during inspiration. During a most severe episode, wheezing may be absent because of the severe limitation of airflow associated with airway narrowing and respiratory muscle fatigue.

Asthma can occur without wheezing when obstruction involves predominantly the small airways. Thus, wheezing is not necessary for the diagnosis of asthma. Furthermore, wheezing can be associated with other causes of airway obstruction, such as cystic fibrosis and heart failure. Patients with vocal cord dysfunction, now referred to as inducible laryngeal obstruction (ILO), have a predominantly inspiratory monophonic wheeze (different from the polyphonic wheeze in asthma), which is heard best over the laryngeal area in the neck. Patients with excessive dynamic airway collapse (EDAC), bronchomalacia, or tracheomalacia also have an expiratory monophonic wheeze heard over the large airways. In exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, wheezing may be present after exercise, and in nocturnal asthma, wheezing is present during the night.


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