Nighttime wheezing in children

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The wheezing that parents hear while a child sleeps is mainly caused by inflammation of the lower airways. Allergies, asthma, bacterial and viral infections can instigate indications of wheezing at nighttime and after engaging in physically demanding activities. A doctor should be consulted for proper assessment as well as start the appropriate treatment.

What is wheezing?

Wheezing is described as a high-pitched whistle-like sound when the child is breathing. The sound is quite evident during exhalation. Depending on the exact cause of the wheezing, this symptom can be accompanied by chest tightness, cough, fever and congestion. The coughing linked with wheezing often worsens with physical activity or at nighttime when the child is lying down.

What are the causes?

Depending on the exact cause of the wheezing, this symptom can be accompanied by chest tightness, cough, fever and congestion.

Wheezing is a usual symptom of allergies and asthma. Both allergies and asthma run in families, thus the risk of the child for developing these conditions increases if one or both parents have allergies or asthma.

Asthma is an inflammatory condition that affects the airways. As for allergic rhinitis, it occurs after inhaling allergens and most likely responsible for causing wheezing in children. The typical allergens a child can breathe in at night include mold, dust, pollen, cockroach debris and animal dander.

Viral infections that involve the inferior respiratory tract can also lead to wheezing. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the flu can cause wheezing. Take note that these illnesses can lead to complications that result to prolonged wheezing episodes such as pneumonia which is often bacterial in nature.


The doctor will perform a physical exam on the lungs and breathing to assess the exact cause of wheezing. If allergies or asthma are causing wheezing, the doctor will come up with a suitable treatment plan for the child.

A short-acting beta-agonist inhaler is regularly recommended to help relieve the wheezing when it occurs. The long-acting beta-agonist inhalers are used with inhaled corticosteroids regularly to control the symptoms.

Antihistamines are commonly used in controlling allergies. There are some over-the-counter brands that have a sedative effect. These work by reducing the symptoms and help the child sleep at night. In case a bacterial infection causes the wheezing, the doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. If the cause is a virus, the condition will simply run its course.

Preventive measures

  • It is recommended to avoid smoking if children are around. Remember that secondhand smoking irritates the airways and increases the risk for breathing issues if the child has asthma, allergies or respiratory infections.
  • The secondhand smoke can also make the child prone to respiratory infections. Members of the household should wash hands regularly and thoroughly to prevent the spread of infection.
  • The child should stay away from those who appear sick.
  • The bedroom of the child should be thoroughly cleaned to minimize exposure to asthma and allergy triggers.
  • Always keep the windows closed, vacuum regularly and frequently wash bedding in hot water.
  • Do not allow pets to sleep in the bedroom of the child.

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