General Paediatrics, Asthma and Allergy

Dr John Chapman   FRCPCH
  Consultant Paediatrician (NHS & Private)

Making sick children better.


A ruttle is a coarse, crackling sound which some babies make even when they are well. It is caused by secretions ( snot, saliva, gunk etc) being allowed to pool in the back of the throat. Babies can allow this fluid to collect there but adults would have to cough it out or swallow it down. As the child breathes through the fluid, it makes a bubbling noise. As the fluid bubbles around, it produces vibrations which travel through the spongy lung tissue out to the chest wall where they can be felt with the flat of your hand.

Ruttle is a Yorkshire word; other areas might use the word Crickle or Crackle but often the sound is incorrectly called a wheeze.

What doctors might say
  • It's a chest infection
  • It's asthma
  • This child's a Happy Wheezer ( or a Fat Happy Wheezer)
  • I can hear crackles in the lungs ( actually these are transmitted sounds from the back of the throat)
  • The noise goes away after examining the throat with a dry stick and causing a gag reflex.
What parents say

  • My baby sounds like Darth Vader
  • People comment on my baby's breathing when I am out in the shops.
  • My baby has a constant Chest Infection. 
  • My baby has had lots of antibiotics.
  • Asthma inhalers and other medicines do not help my baby.
  • My baby is very happy despite of the noise. 
  • The noise gets better with eating and drinking but worsen when they have a cold.
  • I can feel vibrations when I hold my baby's chest. It feels like holding a bag of crisps or a boiling kettle.
  • I can feel the infection in my baby's chest. 
What happens to babies with a Ruttle

  • Nothing bad
  • Over time they learn to swallow the secretions and the noise goes away.
  • Some children with a Ruttle will go on the have asthma or allergies (but most will not)

What can I do for my baby with a Ruttle

  • Don't worry about it too much
  • Beware of Google. You won't find much on Ruttle apart from one scientific article 
  • Understand that antibiotics, asthma medicines and cough medicines will not help.
  • Ignore that person in the Post Office who makes comments. 

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