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Bronchiectasis

3-minute read

Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the airways in the lungs are damaged, causing the airways to become permanently widened. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent further lung damage. If you have bronchiectasis, it's important to learn how to manage it with ongoing medical care.

Types of bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is usually caused by a long-term lung infection. Damage to the airways prevents them from clearing the mucus. Mucus is naturally produced by your airway to help remove dust and other small particles.

The mucus build-up in the airways can become infected, which can cause your airways to be blocked and lead to repeated lung infections.

Examples of lung infections that can lead to bronchiectasis include:

Other causes of bronchiectasis can include:

  • cystic fibrosis - a disease that can cause thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs
  • autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease
  • allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), an allergic reaction to a fungus called Aspergillosis

Sometimes an obvious cause can’t be found.

Symptoms of bronchiectasis

The most common symptom is an ongoing cough with sputum (mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up from your airways).

Other symptoms may include:

Bronchiectasis diagnosis

Your doctor is likely to take a medical history and ask you about your symptoms and overall health. Your doctor may examine you, including listening to your breathing with a stethoscope.

You may need imaging tests such as a chest X-ray or CT scan for your doctor to see inside your lungs. You may be asked to provide a sample of your sputum to test for bacteria or fungi.

Other tests may include:

  • blood tests to check for infections or other possible causes of your condition
  • breathing tests to check how well your lungs are working

Bronchiectasis treatment

Bronchiectasis can be treated to control any infections, relieve symptoms and prevent further lung damage.

Medicines may include:

  • antibiotics to treat infection
  • bronchodilators, medicines that help open up the airways – making breathing easier
  • inhaled corticosteroids to reduce inflammation (swelling)
  • medicines to help loosen the mucus and make it easier to cough up

A physiotherapist may prescribe you a daily program to help clear your airways of sputum. This program may include physical exercise, breathing exercise, coughing exercises and getting into positions that make it easier to drain sputum.

If you smoke, try to quit. Ask your doctor for support and advice about quitting smoking. You can also call Quitline 13 7848 for help to stop smoking.

Other things you can do include:

  • getting recommended vaccinations for influenza and pneumococcal disease to reduce the risk of infections
  • taking care of your overall health by living a healthy lifestyle
  • having regular follow-ups with health professionals

When to seek more help

It is important that you learn to manage your condition, including what to do when your condition worsens. Seek medical help immediately if you become very unwell. Delayed treatment may result in worse illness and a longer recovery time.

See your GP if you have an ongoing cough to get it checked out. You can also check your symptoms with healthdirect's online Symptom Checker (for advice on when to seek medical attention).

More information

For more information on bronchiectasis and general lung health, or if you need support, visit Lung Foundation Australia.

Last reviewed: April 2018

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