What is bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis (say "brawn-kee-ECK-tuh-sus") is a lung problem in which the breathing tubes (airways) in the lungs are stretched and become larger.
It starts when your airways are damaged. The damage may be caused by another health problem—such as cystic fibrosis—or a lung infection such as pneumonia or tuberculosis. Bronchiectasis can also be congenital, which means you were born with it.
The damaged airways have a hard time getting rid of mucus (sputum), so the mucus builds up. This causes the airways to stretch and can lead to swelling and repeated infections.
Each time you get an infection, your airways are damaged more. This can make it harder to breathe. Even though there's no cure for the disease, medical care and home treatment can help you feel better and stay healthier. In children with the disease, early treatment can help repair the damage or stop it from getting worse.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms are different for everyone. But common symptoms include:
- A cough that brings up mucus.
- Shortness of breath.
- Chest pain that is sudden and stabbing. It may get worse when you breathe in. The pain may spread to the shoulder or the belly.
- Clubbing. The ends of the fingers and toes swell and the nails bulge outward. The nails wrap around the fingers or toes and look raised, curved, and shiny.
How is it diagnosed?
Bronchiectasis is diagnosed with a chest CT scan. Other tests your doctor may do include a chest X-ray, blood tests to look for infection, a test to find bacteria in your mucus, and tests to measure how well your lungs are working (lung function).
How is bronchiectasis treated?
Bronchiectasis is treated by avoiding things that can irritate your lungs. Your doctor may give you medicines that help clear mucus out of your lungs. You may need antibiotics.
Your doctor may teach you airway clearance techniques to help you cough up mucus.
- In postural drainage, you move your body into different positions to help drain fluid from the lungs. This helps to ease breathing and prevent infections.
- In chest percussion, you clap your chest with a cupped hand to vibrate the airways in the lungs. The vibration helps you cough up mucus.
- Your doctor may give you an airway clearance device, such as a flutter valve to help remove mucus from the lungs.
If the bronchiectasis is severe, you may need oxygen therapy or surgery.
How can you care for yourself?
Even though there is no cure for bronchiectasis, you can manage it and lead a normal life. To help yourself:
- Follow your doctor's instructions for removing mucus from your lungs.
- Follow your doctor's instructions for taking your medicines.
- Drink plenty of fluids. This helps keep mucus thin so it's easier to cough up.
- Follow the eating plan that your doctor suggests.
- Be active. Activity helps loosen mucus, encourages coughing, improves oxygen flow, and makes you feel better.
- Avoid lung infections.
- Get shots to protect against COVID-19, the flu, and pneumococcal disease.
- Wash your hands often.
- 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.