• Bronchiectasis

    Bronchiectasis is a disease that damages the lining of the airway – the tube that connects the nose and mouth and moves air down into the lungs. The condition damages the lining of the airway and causes scarring and weakness, making it difficult for patients to clear mucus and secretions from the lungs. As the disease progresses, bacteria can grow in the stagnant mucus and cause lung infections. Bronchiectasis may even make the airway so weak that lung failure, heart failure or atelectasis results. The condition can develop in infants, children or adults.


    The disease is the result of persistent inflammation and lung infections. Some diseases like mumps and rubella can be triggers, but vaccinations have reduced the likelihood from these viruses. Inhalation of a foreign object or persistently inhaling food particles may also be to blame in some patients, but nearly 1/3 of all cases are in patients with cystic fibrosis or other genetic disorders.


    Bronchiectasis develops slowly over time and may even develop years after an event that has injured the lungs. The most common symptoms include:

    • Long term cough with large amounts of foul smelling mucus
    • Fatigue
    • Shortness of breath
    • Pallor
    • Wheezing
    • Clubbed fingers
    • Bad breath
    • Weight loss

    Testing and diagnosis

    Physical examination may reveal abnormal breath sounds – particularly bubbling, clicking or wheezing in the lower lobes of the lungs. To diagnose bronchiectasis, patients may need the following laboratory and diagnostic testing:

    • Chest X-ray
    • Sputum (mucus) culture
    • Complete blood count (CBC blood work)
    • Sweat testing for cystic fibrosis and other genetic testing
    • TB skin test (PPD screening)
    • Alpha-1 antitrypsin blood work
    • Fungal testing


    There is no cure for bronchiectasis. Treatment will focus on controlling infection and managing secretions (mucus) that cannot be coughed up. Regular, daily drainage of mucus from the airways is first line treatment. Respiratory therapists are often included in the management of the patient with bronchiectasis to teach the patient ways to remove the secretions.

    Medications may be given to open the airway, antibiotics and expectorants may be used to manage the airway. In some advanced cases, removal of a portion or the entire lung may be needed to control complications or manage bleeding if it occurs.