Bronchiectasis, pronounced brong-ke-EK-ta-sis, is a lung condition that causes persistent cough and excess mucus.
The condition occurs when damage from an infection or other condition scars and thickens your airway. This damage prevents the airways from clearing mucus from your lungs. Mucus can then accumulate in your lungs to create an environment where bacteria can grow, leading to repeated and serious lung infections. Each subsequent infection causes further damage to your airway. Over time, the airways can lose their ability to move air in and out of your lungs, which prevents your organs from getting the oxygen they need.
Bronchiectasis can lead to respiratory failure, a collapsed lung or heart failure.
Infections, such as severe pneumonia, whooping cough, measles, tuberculosis and fungal infections can cause bronchiectasis. Other conditions can damage the lungs and increase the risk for this disease, including cystic fibrosis, immunodeficiency disorders and allergic reactions to a specific fungus. A tumor, growth, inhaled object or problems with how the lungs form in a fetus may cause this lung problem.
The initial damage that leads to this condition frequently occurs in childhood, but the signs and symptoms may not appear for years. Repeated lung infections are often the first sign. Other common signs and symptoms include:
- A daily cough that continues for months or years
- Large production of sputum, which contains mucus, each day
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Thickening of the flesh beneath toenails and fingernails, known as clubbing
Symptoms may worsen over time. You may feel tired, and cough up blood or bloody mucus. Severe cases can lead to complications, including respiratory failure, heart failure or collapsed lung, a condition where the lung does not inflate properly. Respiratory failure occurs when an inadequate amount of oxygen passes from your lungs into your bloodstream, or when your lungs do not remove enough carbon dioxide and other waste products. Heart failure happens when your heart does not pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
Your doctor will listen to your lungs and note any abnormal breathing sounds. Tests can help your doctor identify the underlying cause of this lung condition, rule out other causes for your symptoms, and determine the extent of damage to your airways.
Diagnostic tests and procedures can include chest x-rays and blood tests. Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) can evaluate how much air you breathe in and out, how quickly your lungs can move air and how well your lungs move oxygen to your heart.
If your symptoms do not respond to treatment, your doctor may recommend bronchoscopy. Doctors perform this test to look inside your airways using a lighted, flexible tube.
The goals of treatment are to address underlying conditions and lung infections, remove mucus from the lungs and prevent complications. Treatment may include antibiotics to treat infections, expectorants and mucus-thinning medication to help you cough mucus out of your lungs, oxygen therapy and bronchodilators to open airways.