The noises a person makes while breathing can be a good indicator of the health of their lungs. Doctors classify these noises according to their intensity and pitch, and whether they occur during inspiration or expiration. Bronchial breath sounds are loud, harsh breath sounds with an average pitch. They can be normal or abnormal, depending on where they come from and when they occur in the respiratory cycle. This article describes what bronchial sounds are and the characteristics that classify them as normal or abnormal. We also list the different types of abnormal breath sounds and the causes and treatments associated with them.
What are bronchial sounds?
Bronchial sounds, or “tube sounds”, are the type of sounds a person can make while breathing. Bronchial sounds are loud and harsh with medium pitch and intensity.
A doctor will use a stethoscope to listen for sounds. They usually emanate from the following areas:
– the larynx, or voice box
– the trachea or windpipe
– the bronchi, which are the main airways of the lungs and which diverge from the trachea.
Are they normal?
The two main types of breath sounds are bronchial sounds and vesicular sounds. Doctors define these categories based on the intensity and pitch of the sound, as well as the relative duration of its inspiratory and expiratory phases. It is normal for a doctor to hear bronchial sounds above the trachea when a person exhales. However, bronchial sounds emanating from other areas may signal an underlying problem in the lungs. Normal lung tissue contains air, which muffles sound. However, it is possible for the lung tissue to fill with fluid, and fluid conducts sound more efficiently than air. Thus, hearing bronchial sounds in the lungs themselves could signal the presence of fluid in the lungs.
Abnormal breath sounds
Abnormal breath sounds include:
– The rales: The rales are soft sounds of bubbles, clicking or rattling in the lungs. These sounds occur when incoming air opens closed air spaces in the lungs. Thus, a person may notice these sounds when inhaling.
– Rhonchis: Rhonchis are harsh, clicking noises that sound like snoring. They occur as a result of obstruction or inflammation of the large airways.
– Stridor: Stridor is a high-pitched sound that results from a blockage of airflow in the trachea or the back of the throat.
– Wheezes: Wheezes are high-pitched sounds that occur due to a narrowing of the airways.
Types and locations
There are three types of bronchial breath sounds:
Tubular breath sounds are a type of high-pitched bronchial breath sounds. The following conditions can produce tubular breath sounds:
– Consolidation: Consolidation is the medical term used to refer to the filling of fluid in the air spaces of the lungs.
– Pleural effusion: This condition is caused by the accumulation of excess fluid in the layers of tissue surrounding the lungs. Doctors call these layers the pleura.
– Pulmonary fibrosis: This lung disease is characterized by the deterioration and scarring of lung tissue.
– Atelectasis: This is the collapse of a lung or part of a lung.
– Mediastinal tumor: This tumor develops in the mediastinum, which is the area of the chest that separates the lungs.
Cavernous breath sounds are low intensity bronchial breath sounds. Doctors may hear cavernous breath sounds in a person who has one of the following conditions:
– a lung abscess
– cancerous changes in the lung
– lung damage resulting from bronchiectasis.
Amphoric breathing is a type of abnormal bronchial breathing that creates a loud reverberant sound with high harmonics. It indicates damage to the air sacs located in the lungs, called alveoli.
Causes of Abnormal Noises
Several health conditions can cause abnormal sounds in the lungs. These include the following conditions.
Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs that causes the air cells to fill with pus or fluid. This condition can be due to a viral, bacterial or fungal infection.
Symptoms of pneumonia are as follows
a cough, which usually produces yellow, green, or bloody mucus
shortness of breath
rapid, shallow breathing
sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when breathing deeply or coughing
nausea and vomiting
Heart failure is a chronic disease in which the heart does not pump enough blood to all parts of the body.
Possible warning signs of heart failure include:
– shortness of breath
– persistent wheezing or coughing
– increased heart rate
– swelling of the legs, feet or ankles
– lack of appetite
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
COPD is an umbrella term for lung diseases that can restrict the flow of air in and out of the lungs, leading to breathing difficulties.
Symptoms of COPD include:
– frequent wheezing or coughing
– shortness of breath
– difficulty taking a deep breath
– an overproduction of mucus, phlegm or sputum.
Bronchitis is the medical term for inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry oxygenated air to the alveoli of the lungs. Bronchitis can be chronic or acute. Chronic bronchitis is one of the diseases that come under COPD.
Symptoms of bronchitis are as follows
a cough, which usually produces mucus
shortness of breath
a sore throat
stuffy or runny nose
aches and pains
Bronchitis is usually due to a viral infection, but it can also develop as a result of a bacterial infection.
There are three types of abnormal bronchial breath sounds: tubular, cavernous, and amphoric. Other abnormal breath sounds are rales, rhonchus, stridulations, and wheezes. They can sometimes indicate an underlying respiratory problem that requires special attention. Anyone concerned about abnormal breath sounds should see their doctor for diagnosis and treatment if needed.