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Rales vs. Rhonchi: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on February 1, 2024
Rales are fine, crackling sounds heard in the lungs during inhalation, while rhonchi are low-pitched, snore-like sounds heard primarily during exhalation.

Key Differences

Rales, also known as crackles, are abnormal lung sounds characterized by fine, short, high-pitched sounds heard during the end of inhalation. Rhonchi, in contrast, are low-pitched, rattling sounds that resemble snoring, occurring when air flows through narrowed airways.
Rales are often associated with fluid accumulation in the air spaces of the lungs, typical in conditions like pneumonia or heart failure. Rhonchi suggest the presence of obstructions in the larger airways, often seen in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or bronchitis.
The sound of rales is likened to the crinkling of cellophane or the opening of a Velcro fastener, indicating finer airway involvement. Rhonchi, due to their lower pitch, often indicate more substantial obstructions and are audible in conditions with thicker mucus, like bronchiectasis.
Rales are more common during inhalation, they can sometimes be heard during both inhalation and exhalation. Rhonchi, predominantly heard during exhalation, can change or disappear with coughing, as the airways may clear.
The presence of rales can signify a range of pulmonary conditions, necessitating further medical evaluation. Rhonchi, especially when persistent, suggest chronic airway diseases and also warrant further medical investigation.

Comparison Chart

Sound Quality

Fine, crackling
Low-pitched, snoring

Typical Timing

During inhalation
During exhalation

Associated Conditions

Pneumonia, heart failure
COPD, bronchitis

Sound Description

Similar to cellophane crinkling
Resembles snoring or rattling

Changes with Coughing

Usually constant
May clear or change

Rales and Rhonchi Definitions


Rales are fine crackling sounds in the lungs.
The doctor detected rales in her lungs, indicating possible pneumonia.


Rhonchi resemble snore-like sounds.
The doctor noted rhonchi, indicating mucus in the airways.


Rales indicate abnormal lung auscultation.
The intern heard rales, a sign of acute respiratory distress.


Rhonchi indicate airflow obstruction.
The persistent rhonchi pointed towards chronic bronchitis.


Rales are heard at the end of inhalation.
During the exam, rales were audible, hinting at a lung infection.


Rhonchi are heard primarily during exhalation.
On exhalation, the presence of rhonchi was a concern for COPD.


Rales signify fluid in the air spaces.
Listening carefully, the physician noted rales, suspecting heart failure.


Rhonchi are low-pitched, rattling lung sounds.
Rhonchi in his breathing suggested a bronchial obstruction.


Rales are high-pitched respiratory sounds.
The presence of rales alerted the nurse to potential pulmonary edema.


Rhonchi often clear with coughing.
After coughing, the patient's rhonchi significantly reduced.


An abnormal respiratory sound characterized by fine crackles.


A coarse rattling sound somewhat like snoring, usually caused by secretion in a bronchial tube.


Plural of rale


Plural of rhonchus


(medicine) Abnormal clicking, rattling or crackling sound heard from the lungs, often audible only with a stethoscope.


Can rales indicate serious illness?

Yes, they can signal conditions like pneumonia.

Do rales sound different from wheezes?

Yes, rales are crackling, while wheezes are high-pitched.

What are rhonchi?

Low-pitched, snore-like lung sounds.

Do rhonchi change with coughing?

They often do, indicating mucus movement.

What are rales?

Fine, crackling sounds in the lungs.

Are rales heard in both lungs?

They can be, depending on the underlying condition.

Are rhonchi a concern in children?

They can be, especially if persistent.

What causes rales?

Fluid accumulation in the lungs.

What causes rhonchi?

Obstructions in the larger airways.

Can rhonchi be a sign of asthma?

They can, particularly during exacerbations.

Can rhonchi be a sign of COPD?

Yes, they're common in COPD patients.

Can rales be treated?

Treatment targets the underlying cause.

Can rales disappear on their own?

They may if the underlying condition improves.

How are rhonchi diagnosed?

Through chest auscultation by a healthcare professional.

Can rhonchi indicate infection?

Yes, especially respiratory infections.

Do rales occur in heart failure?

Yes, due to fluid buildup in the lungs.

Are rhonchi and wheezes the same?

No, rhonchi are lower-pitched than wheezes.

Do rhonchi require medical attention?

Yes, to address the underlying cause.

Are rales common in smokers?

They can be, especially with accompanying lung disease.

How are rales diagnosed?

Primarily through stethoscope auscultation.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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