Noisy Breathing

You’d expect a child to sound noisy when they breathe if they have a cold, but if the noisy breathing carries on or starts when they aren’t sick, there could be another cause. The pediatric team at Newport Children’s Medical Group, in Newport Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa, and Laguna Beach, California, uses state-of-the-art diagnostics to find the cause of your child’s noisy breathing. They then find the best treatments to resolve the problem and help your child breathe more easily. Call Newport Children’s Medical Group today to schedule a consultation.

Noisy Breathing Q & A

What is noisy breathing?

Noisy breathing is very common in children, and there are many possible reasons for it. The noises you hear when your child has noisy breathing are due to a narrowing in their airways or a blockage. This could be in their:

  • Mouth
  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Trachea (breathing tube)
  • Lungs

The sounds come from disturbed airflow in the narrowed part of the airway. Noisy breathing is a common symptom of viral or bacterial infections that cause swelling in the airways, like a cold or croup.

What causes noisy breathing?

The narrowing or blockage that creates noisy breathing can be due to a number of conditions. These include:

  • Congenital subglottic stenosis (narrowed airway)
  • Abnormal swelling
  • A growth
  • Scarring
  • Acquired subglottic stenosis
  • A cyst
  • Hemangioma (vascular birthmark)
  • Asthma
  • Vocal cord paralysis
  • Paradoxical vocal cord dysfunction (PVCD)
  • Recurrent respiratory papillomatosis

Droopy tissues that collapse in the airway can cause noisy breathing. Examples include:

  • Pharyngomalacia
  • Laryngomalacia
  • Tracheomalacia
  • Bronchomalacia

Your child could also have inhaled food or a foreign object into their airway that’s blocking it off. If you only notice their breathing is noisy during sleep, such as snoring, they may have sleep apnea.

In some cases, the airways can come under pressure from another part of your child’s body, such as a crossing blood vessel.

What types of noisy breathing are there?

There are three main types of noisy breathing:


Stertor is a noise coming from the back of your child’s throat or nose. It tends to be at a low pitch and sounds very much like snoring, or the kinds of noises you make when you have a cold.


Stridor is more high-pitched than stertor, and comes from narrowing or obstruction in the larynx or just below.


Wheezing is typically higher-pitched than stridor and happens on the out-breath. Wheezing tends to be caused by problems in the lungs.

How is noisy breathing diagnosed and treated?

Your provider at Newport Children’s Medical Group starts by looking at your child’s medical history and carrying out a physical exam. They also need to know about other symptoms like weight loss that might help with diagnosis.

They might want to run some tests, which could include:

  • Flexible bronchoscopy
  • Laryngoscopy
  • Nasopharyngoscopy
  • Operative laryngoscopy
  • X-rays

It might be necessary for your child to undergo a sleep study or a swallowing study as well to check for problems like sleep apnea.

Treatment for noisy breathing depends on what’s causing the symptoms. Your provider at Newport Children’s Medical Group might prescribe medications or an oral appliance for some conditions, or there could be times when surgery might be necessary.

If your child has noisy breathing, call Newport Children’s Medical Group today.