What are Respiratory Sounds?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 March 2020
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The term “respiratory sounds” is used to describe noises produced by the lungs during respiration. They are not necessarily indicative of a problem since some respiratory sounds are considered normal. Abnormal sounds may be the sign of a health condition or illness.

Doctors often listen to respiratory sounds, also known as breath sounds, during a routine visit. This often involves the placing of a stethoscope on the back where the lungs can be heard more clearly. All respiration produces slight sounds as the air moves through the airways within the lungs. Doctors are trained to determine which sounds are considered normal and they may become acutely aware of even slight variations between normal and abnormal breath sounds.

Sometimes abnormal respiratory sounds are subtle and may only be noticed by a trained ear. This could include slightly higher pitched inhalation or breaths which are louder than normal. Other abnormal sounds may also be more obvious, as in the case of excessive mucus production. This can cause rustling, wheezing, whistling, and other sounds within the airways.

Many times, abnormal respiratory sounds alone are not enough to determine whether or not a patient is ill. Additional tests may also be needed, such as a chest X-ray or breathing test. Patients may also give a list of other symptoms which may be present, such as difficult breathing or fever. There are a wide range of conditions which may cause abnormal respiratory sounds.


Treatment of various lung conditions can vary depending on the condition each patient has. Many causes of abnormal breath sounds are easy to treat and relatively benign. Slight inflammation can occur as the result of allergies and other typically non-life threatening illnesses. Other illnesses such as pneumonia or emphysema are potentially serious and require immediate treatment.

Patients who are experiencing any sort of respiratory distress should see a doctor right away, especially if symptoms are severe. Potential symptoms can include trouble breathing, wheezing, and sometimes dizziness. Many times breathing symptoms are not caused by an issue in the lungs or airways, but only a doctor can determine if the lungs or another condition is to blame for breathing difficulties.

Some respiratory sounds are obvious and may be noted even by patients themselves. This is generally done by having someone listen to one’s back to hear for rustling sounds or crackling noises. No patient should attempt to self-diagnose any health condition.



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