What is bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis is a chronic lung condition in which the bronchi (tube-like passageways that transfer air within the lungs) get permanently damaged and widened. Any condition that causes narrowing or damage to the airways can result in bronchiectasis. Around 350,000 to 500,000 people in the United States have bronchiectasis. It is more common in women than in men and the risk of bronchiectasis increases with age in both genders.
Bronchiectasis is more common in women than in men. There are many causes of bronchiectasis, but the condition is most commonly caused by an infection of the airways. Around 40 percent of cases of bronchiectasis have no apparent cause. Such cases are called idiopathic bronchiectasis. Often, repeated infections result in bronchiectasis. These include
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
- Tuberculosis and non-tuberculosis mycobacterium (NTM) infections
Other causes of bronchiectasis include
- Cystic fibrosis (a genetic condition)
- Aspiration (a condition that causes swallowing problems resulting in the entry of liquids or solids into the airways)
- Autoimmune diseases
- Congenital or birth defects of the airways
- Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA, a lung condition caused by severe allergic reaction following exposure to the fungus called Aspergillus)
- Immunodeficiency disorders (such as human immunodeficiency virus [HIV] and diabetes)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD)
- Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (a deficiency of an airway protecting substance called alpha-1 antitrypsin)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Primary ciliary dyskinesia (a condition affecting the function of the protective hair-like projections or cilia within the airways)
- Exposure to toxic gases
- Connective tissue disorders
What are the symptoms of bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis is a chronic or long-term condition. The symptoms typically develop gradually over months or years and become worse as the disease progresses. The two classical symptoms of bronchiectasis are cough and daily production of a lot of mucus or sputum. Other symptoms of this condition include
- Coughing upf yellowish or greenish sputum
- Blood-streaked sputum or hemoptysis (coughing out of blood)
- Shortness of breath that generally worsens during flare-ups
- Fever with or without chills
- Noisy breathing or wheezing (a whistling sound when the person breathes)
- Fatigues easily (getting tired easily)
- Chest pain or discomfort during breathing
- Clubbing (thickening of the skin under the nails giving the fingertips an abnormal, rounded appearance)
- Weight loss
- Growth may be slowed down in children with bronchiectasis
What is the best treatment for bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis is a serious condition. In the absence of proper treatment, it can progress to cause permanent lung damage, leading to conditions such as respiratory and heart failure.
The treatment targets include improving symptoms, controlling flare-ups, improving the quality of life and reducing the development of complications. The treatment mainly comprises
- Management of underlying health conditions
- Antibiotics to treat infections
- Mucus-thinning medications
- Bronchodilators to widen the airways and allow better movement of air
- Chest physiotherapy and airway clearance devices such as oscillating positive expiratory pressure (PEP) and intrapulmonary percussive ventilation (IPV)
- Getting the necessary vaccinations (such as pneumococcal vaccines)
Your doctor may also suggest lifestyle changes such as
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