Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the airways (bronchi) are damaged and widened. This makes it difficult for the lungs to get rid of mucus. As a result, mucus gathers in the airways, and this often leads to lung infections. Infection can cause inflammation in the airways, which may further weaken and damage the bronchi.

CAUSES

Bronchiectasis may be present at birth (congenital) or may develop later in life. Sometimes there is no apparent cause. Some common causes include:

  • Cystic fibrosis.  

  • Recurrent lung infections (such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, or fungal infections).

  • Foreign bodies or other blockages in the lungs.

  • Breathing in fluid, food, or other foreign objects (aspiration).

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Common symptoms include:

  • A daily cough that brings up mucus and lasts for more than 3 weeks.

  • Frequent lung infections (such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, or fungal infections).

  • Shortness of breath and wheezing.  

  • Weakness and fatigue.

DIAGNOSIS

Various tests may be done to help diagnose bronchiectasis. Tests may include:

  • Chest X-rays or CT scans.  

  • Breathing tests to help determine how your lungs are working.  

  • Sputum cultures to check for infection.  

  • Blood tests and other tests to check for related diseases or causes, such as cystic fibrosis.

TREATMENT

Treatment varies depending on the severity of the condition. Medicines may be given to loosen the mucus to be coughed up (expectorants), to relax the muscles of the air passages (bronchodilators), or to prevent or treat infections (antibiotics). Physical therapy methods may be recommended to help clear mucus from the lungs. For severe cases, surgery may be done to remove the affected part of the lung. 

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Get plenty of rest.  

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your health care provider. If antibiotics were prescribed, take them as directed. Finish them even if you start to feel better.

  • Avoid sedatives and antihistamines unless otherwise directed by your health care provider. These medicines tend to thicken the mucus in the lungs.  

  • Perform any breathing exercises or techniques to clear the lungs as directed by your health care provider. 

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.

  • Consider using a cold steam vaporizer or humidifier in your room or home to help loosen secretions.  

  • If the cough is worse at night, try sleeping in a semi-upright position in a recliner or by using a couple pillows.  

  • Avoid cigarette smoke and lung irritants. If you smoke, quit.

  • Stay inside when pollution and ozone levels are high.  

  • Stay current with vaccinations and immunizations.  

  • Follow up with your health care provider as directed.  

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You cough up more thick, discolored mucus (sputum) that is yellow to green in color.

  • You have a fever or persistent symptoms for more than 2–3 days.

  • You cannot control your cough and are losing sleep.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You cough up blood.  

  • You have chest pain or increasing shortness of breath.  

  • You have pain that is getting worse or is uncontrolled with medicines.  

  • You have a fever and your symptoms suddenly get worse. 

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.  

  • Will watch your condition.  

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.