Bronchiectasis is a condition where the bronchial tubes of your lungs are permanently damaged, widened, and thickened. These damaged air passages allow bacteria and mucus to build up and pool in your lungs. This results in frequent infections and blockages of the airways.

There is no cure for bronchiectasis. You can live a normal life with treatment.

Flare-ups can cause lung damage and need to be treated quickly to keep oxygen flowing to the rest of your body. There is more information about bronchiectasis on this page.

Illustration of healthy bronchus and one with bronchiectasis.
The left image is a bronchus without bronchiectasis compared with an image of bronchiectasis. Illustration by Maya Chastain

It can take months or years for symptoms of bronchiectasis to show up. Some symptoms are typical.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should immediately contact a doctor.

Any lung injury can cause bronchiectasis. There are two main categories of this condition:

The risk of developing bronchiectasis increases with age, though younger people can have it. Women are more likely to have it than men.

Other health conditions can put you at risk of having bronchiectasis.

A chest computed tomography (CT) scan is the most common test for diagnosing bronchiectasis because a chest X-ray does not provide enough detail.

The painless test will show you pictures of your chest. A chest computed toms can show lung damage.

Your doctor will try to establish the cause of the bronchiectasis based on your history and physical exam findings after the chest computed toms is done.

The clinician needs to find out the exact cause so they can treat the underlying disorder. There are many causes that can cause bronchiectasis.

The underlying cause evaluation consists of laboratory and microbiologic testing.

Your initial evaluation will likely include some information.

If your doctor suspects CF, they’ll order a sweat chloride test or genetic test.

Tips for living with bronchiectasis

The exact cause of bronchiectasis is unknown in about 50 percent of the cases of non-CF bronchiectasis.

It is related to atypical genetic characteristics and other medical conditions that affect the lungs. There are ways to prevent bronchiectasis.

  • not smoking tobacco products or quitting smoking
  • avoiding polluted air
  • getting your vaccination against the flu, whooping cough, pneumonia, measles, and COVID-19
  • If you have a condition that puts you at risk for infections, you should take antibiotics to prevent and treat them.

“Prevention may be difficult when the cause is not known. It is important to get treatment for bronchiectasis early on so that you don’t suffer lung damage.”

Treatment is important to help you manage the condition, there is no cure for bronchiectasis. The goal of treatment is to keep infections under control. The most common treatment options for bronchiectasis are.

  • Chest physiotherapy. One form of chest physiotherapy is a high frequency chest wall oscillation vest to help clear 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.
  • Surgery. If there’s bleeding in your lung, or if the bronchiectasis is only in one part of your lung, you may need surgery to remove the affected area.
  • Draining secretions. Another part of daily treatment involves draining the bronchial secretions, aided by gravity. A respiratory therapist can teach you techniques to aid in coughing up the excess mucus.
  • Treating underlying conditions. If conditions like immune disorders or The COPD is a disease. are causing your bronchiectasis, your doctor will also treat those conditions.
  • Lifestyle changes. Things like exercise, eating a healthy diet, and drinking plenty of water may help improve the symptoms of bronchiectasis.

The outlook for people with bronchiectasis depends on what is causing it.

Bronchiectasis affects 350,000 to 500,000 people in the U.S. While severe bronchiectasis can be fatal, individuals with the non-CF type generally have a good outlook with treatment.

It is important that treatment begins so that lung damage can be prevented.

This article is in Spanish.