Did you know that doctors can use a stethoscope to learn about your lung health? Whether it’s part of a regular check up or a pulmonary fibrosis screening, the sounds heard through the stethoscope can share lots of information about your breath and, therefore, your lungs as well. Read on to discover the different kinds of breathing sounds and what each one may mean for your health.
Doctors, pulmonologists, and other health specialists are trained to recognize various breathing sounds. They can distinguish between “normal” breath sounds and “abnormal” breath sounds. What they hear can help lead to a PF diagnosis, if applicable. Before determining the diagnosis, they’d also listen to your health history, consider your symptoms, and run lung function tests.
There are a variety of sounds that professionals listen for. They are trained to understand the factors that impact these sounds – such as the location of the stethoscope, or whether you’re inhaling or exhaling. For example, the breath typically sounds very loud and high pitched when the stethoscope is close to someone’s vocal cords… and then much softer with a lower pitch when it’s near the lungs.
A doctor would listen for sounds different than what is expected. They would be sure to take note of abnormal breath sounds such as clicks, bubbles, rattles, wheezing, snoring, and more. They’d also be listening for a lack of sound in case there’s a collapsed lung or some other reason for a lack of air flow.
There are several specific sounds that can indicate lung challenges. One common category is called “crackles.” Crackles can be heard during slow, deep breaths. They seem short, discontinuous, and practically explosive. The sounds of crackling in the lungs occur in the small airways and indicate that something is affecting air flow. Fine, medium, and course crackles are the 3 different categories that clinicians can observe.
Depending on which type of crackling sound is happening, and when those crackles are happening, your doctor could begin to understand which lung condition you might be experiencing. They’d be able to consider and potentially recognize the sounds associated with PF, pneumonia, COPD, asthma, lung infection, pulmonary edema, etc. In particular, fine crackles could point to an interstitial lung disease such as PF.
Velcro-like crackles are characteristic of PF. These sounds are often present in PF patients regardless of what stage the disease is in. Bibasilar inspiratory crackles i.e. a crackling sound from the base of both your lungs that a doctor may hear when they ask you to take a breath during a physical exam may be indicative of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Though PF is extremely difficult to diagnose, listening to the lungs can make a big difference. These velcro sounds can also occur for other reasons, so it’s important to advocate for a comprehensive PF screening to rule out other conditions.
Fortunately, you can learn more about lung health even without a stethoscope. Next time you practice breathing exercises or meditations, try to notice how your own breath sounds and feels to you. You can use our free recordkeeping templates to keep track of the sounds, sensations, and symptoms you experience. Though you won’t necessarily know whether something is normal or abnormal in clinical terms, you can still note if something seems abnormal to you and then reach out for further evaluation. Your health care provider can conduct an exam any time there’s a concern or question about your lung or overall health.