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Obesity & Wheezing

author image Matthew Busse
Matthew Busse has pursued professional health and science writing since 2007, writing for national publications including "Science Magazine," "New Scientist" and "The Scientist." Busse holds a doctorate in molecular biology from the University of California-San Diego.
Obesity & Wheezing
Your weight may be affecting your breathing. Photo Credit Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images

Obesity has been linked to several health risks, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In addition, obesity, which is defined as a body mass index of 30 or more, may also be linked to difficulty breathing, wheezing and asthma. If you are wheezing frequently and suspect obesity may be related, consult your doctor for an evaluation.


Wheezing happens when a person is breathing through constricted or narrowed airways, resulting in high-pitched whistling-like noises that accompany each breath. Obesity is recognized as a possible cause of wheezing, reports the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Among obese children, the rate of wheezing was measured at almost 70 percent in one study published in the January 2011 issue of the "Italian Journal of Pediatrics."


In addition to wheezing, obesity has also been linked to other symptoms of asthma including coughing, difficulty breathing and chest tightness. In particular, obesity seems to be strongly linked with severe asthma. In one study of people forced to go to the emergency by severe asthma symptoms, roughly 75 percent were either overweight or obese, reports an article published in the April 2006 issue of the journal "Pharmacology and Therapeutics."

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Sleep Apnea

The effect of obesity on wheezing and asthma may be related to an increased risk of sleep apnea and other sleeping disturbances among obese people. People with sleep apnea stop breathing for brief periods of time while sleeping, leading to poor sleeping, daytime sleepiness and exhaustion. People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of sleep apnea, reports the Weight-Control Information Network.


The reason obesity causes wheezing and other breathing difficulties is not fully understood. One theory is that higher levels of fat around the neck may constrict the airways, making breathing harder, especially when lying down, explains the Weight-Control Information Network. In addition, high levels of fat may also result in inflammation of the airways, increasing the risk of asthma. Obesity also raises the risk of gastroesophageal reflux and reduces lung capacity, both of which may contribute to wheezing and asthma, reports "Pharmacology and Therapeutics."

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