Snap, Crackle, Pop! Lung Sounds

The holidays are always a busy time and with a very festive week came Siberian cold temperatures and the dreaded return of my "friends"-- the cough and the wheeze, along with certain asthma lung sounds.

It all began with what I thought was exposure to a trigger that I had not been expecting, which it seemed to throw my asthma into a tailspin. I was mostly sure that this may have been induced by coming into contact with wrapping paper that was being burned in a fireplace, which of course produces a concerning smoke. Yuck and yikes!

Had to wait to see my doctor

I activated my asthma action plan and began working, starting with SABA rescue meds and waiting for responses. Have I mentioned that I have a knack for getting sick or having a respiratory situation during the holidays and long weekends?

Unfortunately, connecting with non-emergency respiratory care during the holiday involves paging your doc. I only like to page in case of emergencies, etc. The worst thing to do would be to misuse that option. My healthcare system is not so enthusiastic about misusing paging privileges.

The doctor heard some asthma lung sounds

I had a follow-up booked a few days later so I was not as concerned about it, but then came the physical exam. My wheeze seemed to have disappeared. I know that not everyone wheezes, but I am generally a wheezer. My asthma has been really well-controlled lately, so it caught me off guard to even be wheezing. My wheeze was mostly gone by the time my follow-up rolled around. I swear, it is always that way. The doctor heard some crackles... but what are crackles and what does this mean?

Crackles are discontinuous, explosive, "popping" sounds that originate within the airways.1 The sounds are made when the airways suddenly open and the pressure on either side of the obstruction equilibrates in distinct vibration in the airway wall.1"

Where are these lung sounds coming from?

The airway obstruction is thought to be due to secretions in the airway lumen or by a collapse caused by pressure by inflammation or edema in neighboring tissue. Crackles can often be heard more on inspiration than expiration, they are important because they can indicate fluid within the airways or inflammation.1

In my case, the guilty cause was thought to be mucus in the way causing obstruction. The best thing I can do is clear it, which means increasing my daily session of mucus clearing with my Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure (OPEP) device. It is oh, so glamorous! Honestly, I do feel better after the clearing but I do wish that sputum/mucus was not always so present in my world.

Some other lung sounds of asthma


These are high-pitched sounds that originate from the narrow airways. The wheezes occur as a result of air struggling to get through. In some cases, the sound may be so high that it can be heard without a stethoscope.


These sounds can be heard as rattling or bubbling.


These are similar to wheezes, but unlike wheezes, these sounds are caused by the narrowing of the trachea.


These crackles sound like light or heavy snoring. They are caused by the blocking of the airway that keeps breath from flowing smoothly in and out of the lungs.2

I am convinced that one day I will make a soundtrack of my lungs.

What lung sounds have you experienced?

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