What causes noisy breathing?

Any narrowing or partial obstruction to normal airflow can cause noisy breathing. The quality, timing and nature of the noisy breathing are all clues that help the doctor to diagnose the cause of the noisy breathing. A video recording is often helpful to show the doctor at your visit.

Types of noisy breathing:

  • Stertor/snoring (inspiratory low-pitched noise)
  • Indicates a problem in nose, nasopharynx (adenoids), oropharynx (tonsils) or soft palate
  • Stridor (high pitched noise)
  • Inspiratory (occurs on breathing in and indicates problem just above the vocal cords)
  • Expiratory (occurs on breathing out and indicates a problem further down the windpipe)
  • Biphasic (occurs on breathing in and out and indicates a problem just below the vocal cords)
  • Wheezing (continuous coarse, whistling sound)
  • Narrowing in the lungs (asthma)
  • Grunting (expiratory short deep, hoarse sound)
  • Forced expiration against closed vocal cords (pneumonia, emphysema, respiratory distress)

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea

What is obstructive sleep apnoea?

Obstructive sleep apnoea is a sleep disorder that affects a patient’s breathing while they sleep. The upper airways become blocked, and oxygen flow is reduced to the body’s organs. In children this is commonly cause by adenoidal hypertrophy and/or enlarged tonsils. Other rarer causes such as cysts or swelling in the head and neck region also need to be considered.

What are the symptoms?

Some common symptoms include difficulty feeding, irritability, snoring, periods where breathing stops during the night, daytime sleepiness as well as very restless sleep.

How can it be treated?

Careful and thorough evaluation of potential causes needs to be undertaken prior to intervention by a multi-disciplinary team (paediatrician, pulmonologist, ENT).  Evaluation sometimes includes airway evaluation that requires endoscopic (using specialised cameras) of the airway. If enlarged adenoids and tonsils are thought to be the cause, surgical excision (adeno-tonsillectomy) is a very effective treatment.