European Respiratory Society


Wheezes are continuous adventitious lung sounds. The American Thoracic Society Committee on pulmonary nomenclature define wheezes as high-pitched continuous sounds with a dominant frequency of 400 Hz or more. Rhonchi are characterized as low-pitched continuous sounds with a dominant frequency of about 200 Hz or less. The large variability in the predominant frequency of wheezes is one of the difficulties encountered with automated analysis and quantification of wheezes. The large variations observed in automated wheeze characterization emphasize the need for standardization of breath sound analysis. This standardization would help determine diagnostic criteria for wheeze identification. The mechanism of wheeze production was first compared to a toy trumpet whose sound is produced by a vibrating reed. The pitch of the wheeze is dependent on the mass and elasticity of the airway walls and on the flow velocity. More recently, a model of wheeze production based on the mathematical analysis of the stability of airflow through a collapsible tube has been proposed. According to this model, wheezes are produced by the fluttering of the airways walls and fluid together, induced by a critical airflow velocity. Many circumstances are suitable for the production of continuous adventitious lung sounds. Thus, wheezes can be heard in several diseases, not only asthma. Wheezes are usual clinical signs in patients with obstructive airway diseases and particularly during acute episodes of asthma. A relationship between the degree of bronchial obstruction and the presence and characteristics of wheezes has been demonstrated in several studies. The best result is observed when the degree of bronchial obstruction is compared to the proportion of the respiratory cycle occupied by wheeze (tw/ttot). However, the relationship is too scattered to predict forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) from wheeze duration. There is no relationship between the intensity or the pitch of wheezes and the pulmonary function. The presence or quantification of wheezes have also been evaluated for the assessment of bronchial hyperresponsiveness. Wheeze detection cannot fully replace spirometry during bronchial provocation testing but may add some interesting information. Continuous monitoring of wheezes might be a useful tool for evaluation of nocturnal asthma and its treatment.