Physical Symptoms

Anxiety, Wheezing, and Breathing Difficulties

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

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:

  • Hyperventilation Hyperventilation is one of the causes of wheezing that is directly related to anxiety. Hyperventilation is the act of breathing too quickly or inefficiently, in a way that causes your body to expel too much carbon dioxide. Interestingly, it can make you feel as though you're not getting enough oxygen, when in fact the opposite is true. Without enough carbon dioxide, your airways and blood vessels constrict, causing breathing trouble and possible wheezing.
  • Asthma Asthma isn't caused by anxiety, but many studies have shown that those with asthma are more likely to experience anxiety-related symptoms. In theory, this means that when you have anxiety you're more likely to have asthma, which means you're more likely to experience wheezing.
  • GERD Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder, also known as "acid reflux," is similar. Acid reflux isn't a disorder caused by anxiety, but there is a considerable amount of evidence that anxiety can make GERD worse, which in turn means that you're more likely to wheeze.

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.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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