The causes the airways to clog up, producing

The lungs can produce an abnormal noise called rhonchi. Learn about its distinct sound and the conditions that cause it. Then learn how each condition is treated to stop rhonchi.

Definition of Rhonchi

Rhonchi are low-pitched, rattling sounds in the lungs that can be heard through a stethoscope and often sound like snoring or wheezing. They occur continuously when a person is breathing, but disappear or clear up when the person coughs.The lower part of the respiratory system can be described as an upside down tree in the chest.

The first part, called the trachea or windpipe, is the long tube that goes from the back of the throat to the chest. From there, it branches off into two bronchial tubes that extend into the right and left lungs. These bronchial tubes then branch off into smaller tubes called bronchioles, ending at alveoli, the tiny air sacs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. Depending on the condition an individual has, some parts can produce different sounds, like rhonchi, when air moves through them.

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Causes and Treatment

The main causes of rhonchi are obstructions or increased secretions in the larger airways of the lungs. They can be heard in people with the following respiratory conditions.

Pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses. The air sacs fill with fluid or pus along with components the body produces to fight the infection. This causes rhonchi, along with other symptoms like cough, difficulty breathing, fevers and chills.The goal for treating someone with pneumonia is to first identify the type of germ that caused the infection so the right medications can be administered.

As the infection disappears, the air sacs will clear up and the rhonchi should disappear.


Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition in which mucous production in the body is thick and sticky. In the lungs, it causes the airways to clog up, producing rhonchi when breathing. The person usually exhibits other respiratory problems, such as persistent cough, thick sputum, frequent lung infections, difficulty breathing with activity, and stuffy nose.Treatment involves taking medications that thin the mucous, dilating the bronchial tubes, and treating infections.

Sometimes patients wear a special vibrating vest that helps to loosen mucous, making it easier to cough it up and out of the body. In severe cases, a lung transplant is an option. These treatments can sometimes eliminate the rhonchi.

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COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, comes in two types: chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the bronchial tubes are inflamed and frequently congested with mucous. In emphysema, the walls of the alveoli, and sometimes the alveoli themselves, are damaged. In addition to rhonchi, common symptoms of COPD include a productive cough, difficulty breathing, blueness around the mouth and fingernails, lack of energy and chest tightness.

Since a major cause of COPD is smoking, cessation is the first step in treatment. After this, medications that dilate the airway, decrease inflammation and improve breathing can be taken. Oxygen therapy is sometimes carried out. Lung surgery may be beneficial for the right candidate. Rhonchi will diminish as the symptoms improve.


Lesson Summary

Rhonchi are low-pitched wheezes or snore-like sounds that can be heard with a stethoscope. Their presence means an obstruction or an increased amount of secretions is in the airways. Rhonchi can be caused by pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, or COPD.

Treatments usually consist of specific medications, lung therapies, and surgeries.

Terms & Their Definitions

Vocabulary Definitions
Rhonchi causes low-pitched wheezing and snoring sounds from the lungs that can be heard by a stethoscope
Trachea the windpipe from the throat to the chest
Bronchial Tubes two tubes that lead into the left and right lungs
Bronchioles tubes that branch off from the bronchial tubes
Alveoli tiny air sacs in which the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs
Pneumonia infection of the lungs caused by viruses, fungi or bacteria
Cystic Fibrosis inherited condition in which mucous in the body is thick and sticky, causing clogged airways
COPD chronic bronchitis or emphysema – causes rhonchi as well as problems with breathing and a tightness in the chest

Learning Outcomes

Once you’ve memorized the main details above, it should be effortless for you to:

  • Characterize rhonchi lung sounds
  • Identify the possible causes of these sounds
  • Compare various treatments for rhonchi

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