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Anxiety, Wheezing, and Breathing Difficulties

Daniel Sher, MA, Clin Psychology
Anxiety, Wheezing, and Breathing Difficulties

Wheezing is a common breathing problem. It technically refers to a high pitched whistling sound that is made when a person exhales, but in some cases it may refer to the act of sounding breathless when you exhale. It's most commonly associated with asthma, but there is evidence that wheezing is also often caused by anxiety.

In this article, we'll explore the causes of wheezing associated with anxiety and provide you with some tips and strategies to help you control it.

Wheezing and Anxiety Disorders

Wheezing is caused by constricted airways. When the airway closes, it creates a high pitched whistle like sound, and this is often accompanied by trouble breathing and breathlessness more generally. There are several conditions that are either caused by anxiety or triggered by anxiety that can lead to wheezing. The causes include:

Now, these are certainly not the only causes. Your body goes through so many changes when you have anxiety or stress that it’s not so surprising that symptoms such as wheezing occur. Nevertheless, those listed are some common explanations for the link between wheezing and anxiety. .

Note that wheezing can also be "in your head." If you're breathing in such a way that you are exhaling too much, you may hear a noise that isn’t there or isn’t nearly as noticeable as it appears. Keep in mind that when you have anxiety, there is a tendency to worry about things like your health and your breathing, and excessive worry can cause you to hear things that aren't really there.

Are There Ways to Treat Wheezing?

Recall that many of the causes of wheezing are simply diseases that get exacerbated when you have anxiety. That's why you should see your doctor if you hear wheezing, even if it's probably linked to anxiety. Your doctor can tell you how to treat any underlying conditions that may contribute to the problem.

Should you find that the wheezing is hyperventilation related, then the key is to learn to control your breathing better. Breathe significantly slower, taking calm breaths and fighting the urge to breathe in more than you need or breathe out too quickly. Try to take at least 13 to 16 seconds for each breath to ensure that you're maintaining the right carbon dioxide levels.

Article Resources
  1. Carr, Richard E., et al. Anxiety sensitivity and panic attacks in an asthmatic population.Behaviour Research and Therapy 32.4 (1994): 411-418.
  2. Jansson, C., et al. Severe gastro‐oesophageal reflux symptoms in relation to anxiety, depression and coping in a population‐based study. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics 26.5 (2007): 683-691.
  3. Katon, Wayne J., et al. The relationship of asthma and anxiety disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine 66.3 (2004): 349-355.
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