Bronchiectasis is a condition where the bronchial tubes of your lungs are permanently damaged and enlarged. These damaged air passages allow bacteria and mucus to build up in your lungs. This results in infections and blockages in the airways.
Bronchiectasis is treatable, but it cannot be cured. With treatment, you can live a normal life. Flare-ups, however, must be treated quickly so that oxygen isn’t cut off to the rest of your body.
The most common cause of bronchiectasis is an infection in your lungs. This includes viral infections like the flu and bacterial infections like staph or tuberculosis. Additional causes of bronchiectasis include:
- inhaling foreign objects or food
- breathing in stomach acid
- cystic fibrosis
- GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease)
- weakness in your immune system (e.g. HIV, uncontrolled diabetes)
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH), one-third of all cases of bronchiectasis are caused by cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a hereditary disease where mucus builds up in the lungs and other organs like the stomach. This results in repeated infections.
Symptoms of bronchiectasis can take months or even years to develop. Here are some of the symptoms:
- chronic coughing
- coughing up blood
- abnormal sounds or wheezing in the chest on breathing
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- coughing up large amounts of mucus daily
- bad breath odor
- skin with a blue appearance
- weight loss
- thickening of the skin under your nails and toes
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately for diagnosis and treatment.
Your doctor will listen to your lungs to check for any abnormal sounds or evidence of airway blockage. You’ll likely need a complete blood test to identify an infection. Other tests may include:
There is no cure for bronchiectasis, but prompt treatments can help you manage the condition. The main goal of treatment is to keep infections and bronchial secretions under control. It’s also critical to prevent further obstructions of the airways and minimize lung damage. Common methods of treating bronchiectasis include:
- antibiotics to fight infection
- bronchodilators like albuterol (Proventil) and tiotropium (Spiriva) to open up airways
- medications to thin mucus
- expectorants to aid in coughing up mucus
- oxygen therapy
You may need the help of a high-frequency, chest wall oscillation vest to rid your lungs of mucus. The vest gently compresses and releases your chest, creating the same effect as a cough. This dislodges mucus from the walls of the bronchial tubes.
If there’s bleeding in the lung, or if the bronchiectasis is located in only one portion of your lung, surgery may be needed to remove the affected area.
Draining of the bronchial secretions may also be performed on a daily basis as a part of treatment. A respiratory therapist can teach you techniques to aid in coughing up the excess mucus.
If your bronchiectasis is caused by conditions like immune disorders or COPD, your doctor will treat those conditions as well.
Early treatment of a lung infection is essential to prevent bronchiectasis. Avoid polluted air and protect your lungs from chemical fumes. Quitting smoking is vital to overall lung health
You should also have your children vaccinated against the flu, pertussis, and measles, as these conditions have been linked to the condition in adulthood.