What Are the Common Causes of Abnormal Breathing Sounds?

Croup is a condition characterized by a hacking cough and wheezing.
Shortness of breath and wheezing are two potential signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Individuals who are morbidly obese may experience shallow breathing, which may lead to abnormal breathing sounds.
Abnormal breathing sounds may be evident in people who suffer from respiratory infections or airway obstructions.
Patients with emphysema may develop overly-inflated lungs and produce abnormal breathing sounds as a result.
Cystic fibrosis causes mucus to accumulate in the lungs, which causes abnormal breathing sounds.
Individuals who inhale irritants from pollutants may breathing problems and unusual breathing sounds.
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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2015
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Abnormal breathing sounds may be caused by numerous factors, including an infection, an obstruction of the upper airway, or an abscess in the nasal passages. Nasal polyps may also cause abnormal breathing sounds. Wheezing is an abnormal breath sound that may be heard in individuals who have bronchitis or children who develop a condition known as croup. Asthma, which is a chronic condition that constricts the airways, has also been known to cause abnormal breathing sounds. A condition known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often will cause shortness of breath and coughing, as well as problems with breathing.

Some individuals are born with an unusual thickness of the chest wall, and this thickness may increase over the years. In many cases, these individuals will experience abnormal breathing sounds. This may be especially noticeable during times of infection.

When patients with emphysema develop over-inflated lungs, they are likely to experience breath sounds that may not be considered normal. These sounds may be heard as wheezing or a clicking type of noise. Some emphysema patients will also experience a rattling sound with every deep breath they take.

Pneumonia, which is an inflammation and infection of the lungs, may cause abnormal breathing sounds in some individuals. When fluid fills the lungs, these sounds may be heard as bubbling noises or wheezing. The abnormal breath sounds will usually go away after the infection has cleared.


When an individual experiences inflammation of the airways on a recurring basis, this condition is known as bronchiectasis. This condition will often produce breathing such as wheezing, clicking, or rattling. Some individuals who breathe irritants from pollution may also experience problems with breathing and unusual breath sounds.

Patients suffering from cystic fibrosis will often notice abnormal breathing sounds, especially during physical exertion. Cystic fibrosis causes a thick accumulation of mucus to adhere to the lining of the lungs, causing a chronic cough and problems with breathing. This condition is considered genetic and often causes severe lung infections. During times of infection, wheezing and other irregular breathing sounds may develop.

Individuals suffering from congestive heart failure are also likely to produce abnormal breathing sounds. Heart failure may be caused by several factors, including infection or congenital heart defects. When the weakened muscles of the heart cannot pump blood effectively, fluid may accumulate in the lungs, causing abnormal breathing sounds to be heard.


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