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What is bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a chronic condition where the bronchial airways are widened and inflamed with thick mucus. In this situation airways may not clear properly. This may cause mucus to build up and as a result the airways can become infected by bacteria.

If the number of bacteria multiply, you may develop a chest infection or a flare-up of your symptoms. It is important to recognise and treat chest infections as if untreated it may cause more permanent damage and worsening bronchiectasis.

Bronchiectasis can be secondary to severe lung infections such as pneumonia, whooping cough, measles or tuberculosis. Conditions that can be associated with bronchiectasis are inflammatory bowel disease, immune system deficiencies, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s, primary ciliary dyskinesia, COPD and asthma. However about half of all cases of bronchiectasis have no cause found (idiopathic).

What are the symptoms of bronchiectasis?

The most common symptoms are a chronic cough and the production of sputum (phlegm). For people with more severe bronchiectasis this can amount to an eggcup full or more of sputum every day. There is however a spectrum of disease and some may have a dry cough with no or very little sputum. You may also develop wheezing, breathlessness and cough up blood-stained sputum.

How is bronchiectasis treated?

It is important that you learn how to clear mucus effectively and you will normally need to see a respiratory physiotherapist to instruct you on how best to do this regularly.

If you develop a lung infection you will need to take antibiotics. In some cases, you may need to keep a stock of antibiotics as a precaution. If there are frequent infections despite taking normal precautions, there may also be benefit from taking preventative antibiotics throughout the year.

In some cases you may benefit from taking bronchodilators (medication that open up the airways) through an inhaler or even nebulisers. Some benefit from taking tablets or nebulised medication that helps break down thickened mucus to make it easier to clear.

It is important to be up to date with your flu vaccines and also to have a pneumonia vaccine.