What Are the Causes of Inspiratory Wheezing?

Written by mindy schwartz
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What Are the Causes of Inspiratory Wheezing?
Inspiratory wheezing affects adults and children. (Chinese woman holding an x-ray image by Allen Penton from Fotolia.com)

Inspiratory wheezing, also known as stridor, produces a strained, high-pitched sound made when breathing. It is usually caused by an obstruction involving either the pharynx, epiglottis, trachea, larynx or bronchial tubes. Inspiratory wheezing can affect children and adults.

Retropharyngeal Abscess

A retropharyngeal abscess is a collection of pus found in the back of the throat (pharynx). If the abscess is large enough, it may produce an obstruction causing severe throat pain, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) and respiratory distress.


Epiglottis is an inflammation of the epiglottis that can cause breathing difficulties that ultimately lead to an obstructed airway. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that covers the windpipe, so food cannot enter and become lodged when swallowing.

Congenital Tracheomalacia

Tracheomalacia occurs in newborns where there is an abnormal softening of the cartilage in the windpipe. This abnormality causes the walls of the trachea to become floppy and obstruct the newborn's airway.


A laryngospasm is an acute, sudden condition where a brief spasm of the vocal chords makes it difficult to speak or breathe. The spasm is usually associated with gastro-oseophageal reflux disease (GERD) because stomach acid is propelled up toward the larynx causing the acid to come in contact with the vocal cords. Laryngospasms can also occur after removing an endotracheal tube. An endotracheal tube is placed into a patient's trachea to ensure that the airway stays open either during a surgical procedure or when a patient is on a mechanical ventilator.


Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes causing breathing difficulties due to increased mucus production. This condition is often exacerbated by bacterial infections, viruses, cigarette smoke, dust, allergens and chemicals.

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