Wheezing while lying down: causes, treatments and more

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Wheezing is a sensation that occurs when a person breathes through an obstructed airway. Some people find that their wheezing worsens when they are lying down. This can happen because lying down can interfere with the chest’s ability to move up and down, making it difficult to breathe.

Lying down can also cause problems with drainage of mucus from the nose, which could trigger a cough.

Wheezing is a common symptom of asthma, allergies, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and obstructive sleep apnea.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the potential causes of wheezing while lying down and their treatments. We will also provide advice on how to sleep while experiencing this symptom.

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects more than 300 million people worldwide. It is characterized by coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. It is common for asthma symptoms to affect people at night. This is called nocturnal asthma.

Symptoms of nocturnal asthma can include:

  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • cough
  • wheezing

According to the British charity Asthma UK, nocturnal asthma can be a sign that a person’s asthma is not well controlled. People with asthma symptoms at night may be at risk for asthma attacks.

Doctors may prescribe preventative inhalers to improve breathing. People can use them regularly to keep asthma symptoms reduced. Emergency inhalers can help with sudden and sometimes severe symptoms. People with allergies may find it helpful to identify and eliminate the allergen, as well as taking an antihistamine.

OSA is a serious medical condition that causes airflow to decrease or abruptly stop during sleep. This happens due to the relaxation of the pharyngeal muscles and soft tissues, which are located at the back of the throat. This blocks the airways, disrupting breathing.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • frequent or loud snoring, which may stop and start
  • choking, sniffling, or gasping sounds
  • waking up with a dry mouth or a sore throat
  • morning headache
  • difficulty concentrating during the day

Treatment for OSA may include wearing a mouthpiece at night to help keep the airways open. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are often the best option, but in complex cases where a CPAP machine is not suitable, surgery may be required.

Anxiety disorders are a common mental health problem. A 2015 German study found that they affect up to 33.7% Population.

In addition to causing emotional changes, anxiety can cause physical symptoms. Examples include:

  • rapid or shallow breathing (hyperventilation)
  • sweat
  • fast heartbeat, heart palpitations, or both
  • a feeling of suffocation or suffocation

If a person feels anxious at night, they may find that the feeling of extra pressure from gravity on the chest leads to bronchospasm (narrowing of the airways) which can cause a wheezing noise. Anxiety and stress can also increase the likelihood of a person reacting to allergens, which can trigger asthma.

Treatment usually involves talk therapy, but can also include medication to manage symptoms.

Learn more about treatments for anxiety.

Obesity is another potential cause of wheezing.

A randomized study of just over 86,000 adults found that a higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with wheezing, while a 2019 study found that a higher BMI was associated to fat deposits in the lungs. This may explain why obese people may experience wheezing, as well as other breathing difficulties.

People can achieve moderate weight by changing their diet, exercising regularly, and treating any underlying conditions that can contribute to being overweight.

Bronchitis refers to the inflammation of the bronchi, which are the large air passages inside the lungs. In 95% of all cases, acute bronchitis occurs due to a viral infection, such as a common cold. Bronchitis can also occur due to bacteria, allergens, or pollutants, such as smoke.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • a productive cough
  • noisy wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • sore throat, runny nose, or other symptoms of a viral infection
  • mild fever

Acute bronchitis caused by a virus often gets better on its own. The cough can last 10 to 20 days.

Treatments for bronchitis vary depending on the cause. For viral infections, doctors usually recommend rest and treatments that can reduce coughing. This could include throat lozenges, hot tea, or over-the-counter cough medicine.

Learn more about home remedies for bronchitis and when to see a doctor.

GERD occurs when the contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, move up into the esophagus. Symptoms of GERD include:

  • acid reflux
  • stomach pains
  • difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • regurgitation of food
  • bad breath
  • chronic sore throat
  • a recurring or chronic cough
  • wheezing

There is a greater risk of GERD in people with asthma. This is because asthma episodes can cause the lower part of the esophagus to relax, allowing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. Stomach acid can also cause symptoms of asthma or COPD, such as wheezing, by penetrating and irritating the airways.

Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding foods that contribute to flare-ups, can reduce symptoms of GERD. Doctors may also prescribe medicines to reduce the production of stomach acid.

COPD is a condition that gradually makes it harder to breathe. The main cause is smoking, although about 25% of cases are unrelated to smoking. Symptoms of COPD include:

  • chronic and productive cough
  • wheezing, hissing, or squealing when breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness

Some people with COPD have symptoms that are different from these. Some people may also have mild symptoms that they don’t notice at first.

There is no cure for COPD, but there are things doctors can do to relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. These include prescribing medications to help open the airways, pulmonary rehabilitation, supplemental oxygen therapy, and surgery.

Heart failure prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to support organ health and normal breathing. It is a serious illness that can be fatal. Potential symptoms of heart failure include:

  • shortness of breath
  • persistent cough
  • decreased exercise tolerance
  • swelling of limbs and extremities due to fluid overload

Many of these symptoms may not be noticeable until the disease progresses.

People can reduce the symptoms of heart failure with medications, such as diuretics, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and aldosterone antagonists. Certain medications, as well as devices such as automatic implantable defibrillators, can extend a person’s life.

People who wheeze when lying down may have trouble sleeping. To improve the quality of sleep, people can try:

  • Avoid eating before bed: People with GERD should strive to eat at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down. This can reduce acid reflux at night, thereby reducing irritation to the esophagus.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol increase a person’s likelihood of having asthma symptoms. Caffeine can also make acid reflux worse.
  • Eliminate allergens: If a person has asthma or bronchitis caused by allergies, it can be helpful to identify and eliminate allergens that may be present during sleep. For example, if a person allows a pet to sleep on their bed, the dander can cause wheezing at night.
  • Try decongestants: Over-the-counter chest decongestants can help breathe at night, especially in people with acute bronchitis. Decongestants can also help people with asthma, although some find that they can make symptoms worse.
  • Raise your head: Elevating your head, neck, and shoulders can help open the airways during sleep, preventing wheezing. It can also reduce acid reflux.
  • Keep medications nearby: Keep medicines or inhalers that help breathing nearby when you lie down or sleep. This allows people to use them as soon as they wake up from wheezing.

It is important for people who regularly wheeze when lying down to see a doctor. Doctors can help determine the exact cause of the wheezing and recommend treatments.

If anyone has any of the following symptoms, call 911 or the local emergency service:

  • difficulty in breathing
  • pain in the chest, arm, neck, or jaw
  • blue or white lips
  • loss of consciousness or difficulty staying awake

Wheezing when lying down is a common symptom of conditions such as asthma. It can also be the result of anxiety at night, GERD, or obesity. Some people can have a combination of several conditions. For example, people with GERD and asthma may find that acid reflux triggers their asthma symptoms when they are lying down.

People who wheeze regularly should see a doctor.


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