Wheezing is most commonly caused by a lung disease, most notably asthma but it can also be a symptom of lung cancer. If you spot that you are wheezing, it is important to contact your GP practice.

Wheezing is caused by the narrowing of your airways, inflammation or obstruction. When you breathe, you will hear a high-pitched whistling sound. The sound is often most noticeable on the exhale but can also be heard on the inhale, in more severe cases.

Most wheezing is due to asthma or COPD, but can also a sign of lung cancer and other illnesses including:

  • emphysema
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • heart failure
  • sleep apnea
  • vocal cord dysfunction.

It can also be triggered by inhaling a foreign object, smoking or a short term respiratory illness such as bronchitis or pneumonia. However, whatever is causing you to wheeze, it needs to be checked out by a doctor.

Bill Spotted the Difference

Bill described his lung cancer symptoms like a moth fluttering in his chest, causing him to cough and wheeze, particular at night. As a former smoker, he was fully aware that this could be a sign of lung cancer and was scared to go to the doctor. However, he knew he needed to go and, by facing his fear, was diagnosed early and remains cancer free over 20 years later.

Spot the difference in your health

It can be difficult to keep track of your wheezing so we have created a symptoms tracker where you can keep a note of:

  • When you first spotted you were wheezing
  • How often you are wheezing
  • How long the wheezing is lasting
  • If or when the wheezingreturns
  • Any other potential symptoms.

You can then take this along to your doctor’s appointment to give them the fuller picture of your symptoms.

Under the guidelines of the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), your GP should offer you an urgent chest x-ray if you are:

  • over 40
  • two or more symptoms including breathlessness, or
  • one symptom and have ever smoked.

Symptoms for urgent chest x-ray include:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss.

If you are not offered a chest x-ray and you mean this criteria, or if you are really worried about your symptoms, don’t be afraid to ask for an x-ray, or for a second opinion.