A usual part of a physical exam involves the healthcare professional listening to the patient’s breath sounds with a stethoscope. But what
are they listening for?
The breathing sounds they hear may be normal, the sound of air going in and out of the lungs. However, lung sounds may also
be decreased or absent; or, though present, they may be abnormal.
Decreased/Absent Breath Sounds
Decreased or absent sounds can be caused by the following:
- A buildup of fluid in the lungs, as is the case with pneumonia
- A buildup of fluid in the tissue that surrounds the lungs, which occurs in
- Reduced airflow to the lungs
- Over-inflation of the lungs, which can occur in emphysema
- A thickening of the chest wall
Abnormal Breath Sounds
The four most common abnormal breath sounds are:
- Wheezing: a high-pitched whistling sound caused by narrowed airways. Wheezing is usually associated with an inflammatory response, such as asthma or an allergic reaction.
- Rales: rales are heard when the person inhales. They can sound like clicking, rattling, or bubbling; and can be further categorized as moist or dry, and fine or course. The word rales, which comes from the French word for “rattle,” can signal a number of respiratory diseases, including pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, and interstitial lung disease.
- Rhonchi: a sound similar to snoring, rhonchi occurs in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and cystic fibrosis.
- Stridor: sometimes called musical breathing, stridor usually occurs when there is a blockage in the larynx or trachea. These may be caused by something blocking the airway, such as an object or a tumor; swelling or trauma to the airway; bronchitis; and in children it may be caused by croup.
Stridor can occur upon inhalation (inspiratory stridor), exhalation (expiratory stridor), or during both inhalation and exultation (biphasic stridor). The type of stridor encountered helps determine the diagnosis.
Abnormal breath sounds are sometimes clear enough to be heard even without
When to Get Help
Anyone who notices abnormal breath sounds should see a doctor. The following should be considered emergencies, and medical attention should be sought immediately:
- difficulty breathing
- a widening of the nostrils when breathing (nasal flaring)
- shortness of breath that does not resolve quickly
- a bluish cast to the skin (cyanosis)
Laurel Bay Health and Rehabilitation Center, in the scenic beach town of Keansburg, NJ, specializes in pulmonary rehabilitation. Headed by leading pulmonary specialist Dr. Avtar Parhar, our program is the most highly advanced pulmonary rehabilitation program in Monmouth County. At Laurel Bay, we focus on restorative and preventive care for those who suffer with chronic respiratory disease.
Or better yet, come see for yourself. Contact us to schedule a tour by clicking here or by calling (372) 787-8100.