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Breath sounds

Breath sounds are the noises produced by the structures of the lungs during breathing.

Breath sounds


The lung sounds are best heard with a stethoscope. This is called auscultation.

Normal lung sounds occur in all parts of the chest area, including above the collarbones and at the bottom of the rib cage.


Using a stethoscope, the doctor may hear normal breathing sounds, decreased or absent breath sounds, and abnormal breath sounds.

Absent or decreased sounds can mean:

There are several types of abnormal breath sounds. The four most common are:

  • Rales. Small clicking, bubbling, or rattling sounds in the lungs. They are heard when a person breathes in (inhales). They are believed to occur when air opens closed air spaces. Rales can be further described as moist, dry, fine, and coarse.
  • Rhonchi. Sounds that resemble snoring. They occur when air is blocked or air flow becomes rough through the large airways.
  • Stridor. Wheeze-like sound heard when a person breathes. Usually it is due to a blockage of airflow in the windpipe (trachea) or in the back of the throat.
  • Wheezing. High-pitched sounds produced by narrowed airways. They are most often heard when a person breathes out (exhales). Wheezing and other abnormal sounds can sometimes be heard without a stethoscope.


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek immediate medical care if you have:

Contact your health care provider if you have wheezing or other abnormal breathing sounds.

Your health care provider will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history and your breathing.

Questions may include:

  • When did the breath sound start?
  • How long did it last?
  • How would you describe your breathing?
  • What makes it better or worse?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

The health care provider usually discovers abnormal breath sounds. You may not even notice them.

The following tests may be done:

Alternative Names

Lung sounds; Breathing sounds


Kraft M. Approach to the patient with respiratory disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds.Goldman's Cecil Medicine

Update Date 5/13/2013

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