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 breathe out. It's most commonly associated with asthma, but there is a great deal of evidence that wheezing is also often caused by anxiety.
In this article, we'll explore the causes of wheezing from anxiety and provide you with some tips and strategies to help you control it.
Wheezing = Anxiety?
Wheezing is a common sound with any type of breathing problem, whether they're anxiety related or caused by a lung related condition. Find out more about your anxiety by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test.
Wheezing and Anxiety Disorders
Wheezing is caused by constriction in the airways. When the airways close, it creates a high pitched whistle like sound, and is often accompanied by trouble breathing and breathlessness symptoms. There are several conditions that are either caused by anxiety or triggered by anxiety that can lead to this wheezing issue.
Start with my anxiety test to get a better idea of your anxiety problems, so that you can then easily understand how they relate to wheezing. Anxiety can cause wheezing in more than one way - but most of it requires you to already have a disorder that may create wheezing. The causes include:
- Hyperventilation Hyperventilation is one of the few 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 breathe out 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 carbon dioxide, your airways and blood vessels constrict, causing breathing trouble and wheezing.
- Asthma Asthma isn't caused by anxiety, but many studies have shown that those with anxiety tend to be more likely to experience asthma 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 have wheezing.
- GERD Gasteroesophageal 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 there is almost no limit to the possible ways that wheezing can occur. Nevertheless, these are the most likely reasons.
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 nose simply because you're out of air, even though no noise should be present. So 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 truly there.
Are There Ways to Treat Wheezing?
Recall that many of the causes of wheezing are simply minor (or major) diseases that get worse when you have anxiety. That's why you should see your doctor if you hear wheezing, even if it's probably caused by 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 likely 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 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.
You'll then need to make a concerted effort to rid yourself of anxiety. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test now. It's a valuable tool for learning as much about your anxiety as possible and how you can treat it.
Carr, Richard E., et al. Anxiety sensitivity and panic attacks in an asthmatic population.Behaviour Research and Therapy 32.4 (1994): 411-418.
Katon, Wayne J., et al. The relationship of asthma and anxiety disorders. Psychosomatic Medicine 66.3 (2004): 349-355.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.