Bronchiectasis is a condition that occurs when the airways are damaged, causing them to widen and become scarred. This causes the airways to lose their ability to clear out mucus, causing mucus build-up and bacteria growth which leads to repeated lung infections. These repeated infections inflict more damage on the airways each time, making it more difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.

Bronchiectasis is caused by damage to the airways walls, which can occur a number of different of ways:

  • Lung infections, such as severe pneumonia, whooping cough or measles, tuberculosis or a fungal infection
  • Cystic fibrosis, one of the most common causes of bronchiectasis in the United States
  • Immunodeficiency disorders
  • Disorders affecting the cilia, such as primary ciliary dyskinesia
  • Chronic pulmonary aspiration – inhaling food, liquids, saliva, or vomit into the lungs.
  • Connective tissue diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease
  • Airway blockage from a growth, tumor or an inhaled object
  • A congenital defect

Signs and symptoms of bronchiectasis can be absent for months to years after the initial lung damage. The most common signs of bronchiectasis are:

  • Chronic cough
  • Large amount of sputum production daily
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Clubbing, when the flesh under your fingernails and toenails gets thicker
  • Feeling very tired
  • In children, weight loss or not growing at a normal rate
  • In more serious bronchiectasis, a bloody cough or bloody mucus

Severe bronchiectasis can lead to serious health problems, including respiratory failure and heart failure.

While the condition has no cure, with proper care you can prevent further lung damage and enjoy a good quality of life. Bronchiectasis is generally treated with a combination of medicine; physical therapy, including chest vest therapy; and treatment of any underlying conditions causing the bronchiectasis. Working closely with your doctor to learn about your condition, prevent more lung infections and follow your medicine and therapy routines will help you keep your condition under control.