Why Do You Wheeze When You Lie Down?

When engaging in physical activity or feeling extremely stressed, wheezing is perfectly normal. But if you start wheezing when lying down, that’s not so normal and could mean that something is wrong. Most of the time, it’s not something that needs an emergency help, but it is something that should be checked out soon.

Why Do You Wheeze When Lying Down?

1.   Lying Down Too Soon After Eating

You are able to breathe because of your diaphragm, a muscle just below the lungs. After you eat and lie down, the food in your full stomach can put pressure on your diaphragm, making it harder to breathe. There’s also the potential for food to move up along the esophagus, which hinders normal breathing.


If wheezing happens when you lie down too soon after eating, just wait some time. Also, don’t eat too much before lying down.

2.   Obesity

Being overweight can sometimes result in wheezing when lying down due to extra weight placing pressure on the diaphragm and lungs.


Sleeping on your side can often relieve many of the breathing issues due to excess weight. However, losing weight should be a priority since it can also help reduce the chances of other medical issues in the future.

3.   Acute Mountain Sickness

When a person starts to breathe in thinner air as a result of high altitude, acute mountain sickness (AMS) may result. AMS usually happens over 8,000 feet. Sometimes breathing can become so difficult when lying down that a person must sleep sitting up.


AMS is treated by going to a lower altitude. But this is not enough, oxygen should be used during the descent. Under no circumstances should a descent be foregone and only oxygen provided.

4.   Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a term used to describe difficulty breathing. The causes of COPD include smoking, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma. But irritants can cause COPD as well, such as pollution and chemical inhalation.

Depending on the severity of the COPD, symptoms can include chest infections, wheezing, difficulty breathing, incessant coughing and trouble breathing when engaging in physical activity.


COPD has no cure, so if this is the cause of your wheezing while lying down, you’ll only be able to treat the symptoms using fast-acting inhalers and medications used to treat lung infections.

5.   Sleep Apnea

When you’re asleep, muscles can become relaxed and obstruct your airway, causing you to snore, wheeze, or wake up gasping for breath. Many people who suffer from sleep apnea don’t know it since they don’t realize what’s happening while they sleep. However, they’ll usually notice unusual feelings of fatigue during the day.

Other symptoms include waking up with headaches or a sore throat, as well as difficulty staying asleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to memory problems, depression and heart disease.


This can be treated in several ways, such as using a continuous positive airway pressure machine or a special mouth guard.

6.   Nighttime Asthma

Asthma could be another cause for wheezing when lying down. Asthma symptoms tend to be worse at night. Potential reasons for the increase in asthma symptoms while sleeping include cooling of the respiratory system, higher evening concentration of allergy-causing substances, and nocturnal secretions in the airways.


This can be treated with regular asthma medications, such as inhaled steroids. The medications can reduce inflammation which is often a trigger for asthma attacks. Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma, so only the symptoms can be treated.

7.   Pulmonary Edema

Pulmonary edema can be a medical emergency. Fluid buildup in the lungs makes it hard to breathe and often causes shortness of breath. There are many different causes of pulmonary edema, including breathing in thin air, pneumonia, heart problems and side effects of certain medications. Pulmonary edema often becomes more severe when an individual is lying down.


Due to the serious nature of pulmonary edema, the first treatment is usually oxygen therapy; medications might be prescribed depending on the specific cause of the pulmonary edema. These include painkillers, blood pressure medications and preload reducers.

8.   Heart Diseases

When the heart muscle is weak or not working properly, your body may not get the oxygen it needs when you lie down. As a result, you have trouble breathing. Other indicators of heart diseases include excessive shortness of breath when exercising, high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. If the breathing problems are relieved when you sit upright, then a call to the doctor is probably a good idea.


The problem of wheezing when lying down caused by heart problems requires a visit to the doctor, so effective treatment can be prescribed.

9.   Other Methods

  • If wheezing while lying down is caused by a lung infection, antiviral medications or antibiotics will be necessary to get rid of the infection.
  • If anxiety is causing the problem, therapy and anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications can help.

When to Seek Professional Help

Wheezing while lying down could be a sign of serious medical problems, so see your doctor as soon as possible. Be prepared to explain the symptoms and provide information about your medical history. Your doctor may end up doing a chest X-ray, as well as an echocardiogram to check on your heart and lung condition.

Serious trouble breathing when lying down warrants immediate medical attention, especially if it’s accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Shooting pains in the arms and/or neck
  • Acute chest pain
  • Fever
  • Weak pulse
  • Increased heart rate
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