Bronchiectasis: Care Instructions

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Bronchiectasis (say "brawn-kee-ECK-tuh-sus") is a lung problem in which the breathing tubes are stretched and become larger. The buildup of mucus causes the stretching and can lead to swelling and infections. You may find it harder to breathe and cough up mucus out of your lungs. Some people are born with it. Other people get it because of another health problem, usually cystic fibrosis or a lung infection such as pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Symptoms are often different for everyone. But a cough that brings up mucus, or sputum, is common. The condition is usually treated by avoiding things that can irritate your lungs and by using techniques and medicines to help clear mucus out of your lungs. You may need antibiotics.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • If you have cystic fibrosis, follow your treatment plan.
  • If you or your child has bronchiectasis, follow directions from your doctor or respiratory therapist for moving your or your child's body into different positions to help drain fluid. This is called postural drainage, and it helps to ease breathing and prevent infections.
  • You also may do chest percussion on your child. This is strong clapping of the chest with a cupped hand to vibrate the airways in the lungs. The vibration helps your child cough up mucus. You may see a respiratory therapist to learn how to do chest percussion.
  • Use an airway clearance device, such as a flutter valve, as directed to help remove mucus from the lungs.
  • Avoid lung infections.
    • Get shots to protect against COVID-19, the flu, and pneumococcal disease.
    • Wash your hands frequently.
    • Avoid illnesses such as COVID-19, colds, and the flu.
  • Avoid things that can irritate your lungs.
    • Don't smoke or vape or allow others to do these things around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
    • Stay inside, if you can, on days when the pollution level is high.
    • If you are exposed to substances that irritate your lungs at home or at work, talk to your doctor about ways to protect yourself.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You cough up a large amount of blood.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your mucus (sputum) is bloody or changes color.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are coughing up more sputum than before.
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not get better with treatment.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.