What is bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis is a condition that involves the permanent damage, widening and thickening of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. When the bronchial tubes are damaged, bacteria and mucus build up in the lungs, which can result in the air passages becoming blocked, and frequent infections. While there is no known cure for bronchiectasis, it is manageable with treatment.
Symptoms of bronchiectasis
It can take several months or years for the symptoms of bronchiectasis to present themselves. Among the most typical bronchiectasis symptoms are: coughing up blood, shortness of breath, a persistent daily cough, chest pain, a wheezing in the chest when breathing, unusual sounds in the chest when breathing, fatigue, change in fingernail and toenail structure, routinely coughing up thick mucus in high volumes, respiratory infections, and weight loss. Flare-ups - which can involve night sweats and chills - can be experienced.
It is important to see a doctor right away should you experience any of these symptoms.
Cause of bronchiectasis
The two main categories of bronchiectasis are bronchiectasis caused by the genetic condition cystic fibrosis (CF), and non-CF bronchiectasis.
CF is a condition that worsens over time and can cause long term lung infections, reduce breathing ability, and result in digestive problems.
In the case of non-CF bronchiectasis, the root cause is not known in some cases (this is known as idiopathic bronchiectasis). Known causes of non-CF bronchiectasis include: genetic diseases such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency and primary ciliary dyskinesia; a severe infection which has damaged the lung in the past; breathing things such as food or fluid into the lungs; autoimmune diseases; allergies to certain types of fungus; blocked airways caused by an inhaled object or tumour; or other conditions such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
There are certain risk factors associated with bronchiectasis. Aside from cystic fibrosis, you are more likely to develop bronchiectasis if you have the following conditions: chronic and inflammatory lung disease, immune system deficits, severe or chronic lung infections, and chronic inflammatory lung disease.
Treatment options for bronchiectasis
Bronchiectasis is usually diagnosed via: an imaging test such as chest x-ray or CT scan; sputum cultures and blood tests; or a bronchoscopy, which uses a small tube with light and camera to see inside the lungs, also removing any items which may be blocking the air passages.
While bronchiectasis can't be cured, it can be effectively managed with bronchiectasis treatment. You might be prescribed medication such as: antibiotics in pill or inhaled form, to treat bacterial infections; macrolides, to treat infection and inflammation; and drugs that help you to cough out mucus.
There are devices which can help, such as positive expiratory pressure (PEP) devices, airway clearance devices, and percussive devices which are worn. Physical therapy, including chest clapping, may also be recommended in order to clear mucus. The type of treatment that is advised will typically depend on the stage of the condition you are in.