Bronchiectasis - Institute for Respiratory Health


What is bronchiectasis 

Bronchiectasis is a long-term lung condition in which the airways in the lungs are damaged, causing the airways to become permanently widened. Damage to the airways prevents them from clearing mucus. Mucus is naturally produced by your airway to help remove dust and other small particles.

The mucus in your airways can become infected, which can cause your airways to be blocked and lead to repeated infections.

There are three types of bronchiectasis that exist:

  • Cylindrical – widening of the respiratory passages
  • Varicose – bronchial walls have both extended and collapsed portions
  • Cystic – an irreversible ballooning of the bronchi. This is the most severe form of bronchiectasis.

Lung infections that can lead to bronchiectasis:

  • Severe pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis
  • Fungal infections.

Other causes of bronchiectasis include:

Bronchiectasis causes

Bronchiectasis is primarily caused by an infection or another condition that injures the walls of the airways or prevents the airways from clearing mucus. Some of these are:

  • Recurrent, severe lung infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and fungal infections
  • Airway obstructions by a foreign body or tumour
  • Abnormal lung defences
  • Complications from certain infections such as adenovirus, measles, pneumonia, whooping cough and tuberculosis
  • Exposure to chemical irritants (such as ammonia inhalation) may lead to airway inflammation and bronchiectasis
  • Chronic obstruction of a bronchus by a tumour or foreign body
  • Immunological deficiency disorders (HIV, hypogammaglobulinemia)
  • Lung fibrosis (such as connective tissue diseases and pulmonary fibrosis) can increase tension on the bronchiectasis, resulting in dilated airways and traction bronchiectasis.
  • Born with a predisposition to the disorder.

Bronchiectasis symptoms

The most common symptom is an ongoing cough with sputum (mixture of saliva and mucus coughed up from your airways).

Other symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Breathlessness: having difficulty breathing or feeling short of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Problems with your sinuses.

Bronchiectasis treatment

Treatment aims to prevent further damage and infections and relieve your symptoms.

Medicines may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Bronchodilators, medicines that help open up the airways – making breathing easier
  • Inhaled corticosteroids to reduce inflammation (swelling)
  • Medicines to help loosen the mucus and make it easier to cough up.

Other things you can do include:

  • Getting recommended vaccinations for influenza and pneumococcal disease to reduce the risk of infections
  • Taking care of your overall health by living a healthy lifestyle
  • Having regular follow-ups with health professionals.

You can also seek treatment from a physiotherapist who will prescribe you a daily plan to help you clear your airways of sputum. The plan may include breathing exercises, physical and coughing exercises.

If you smoke, you should try to quit.

Bronchiectasis research

Bronchiectasis research helps us understand how the disease is caused, how it develops and how it can be best treated.

Our Clinical Trials Unit undertakes bronchiectasis studies to explore new ways to prevent the disease and improve the quality of everyday life for those diagnosed with it.

Other information can be found at the Australian Institute of Health and WelfareLung Foundation Australia and Healthdirect Australia.

Melissa Flynn’s story

Melyssa was just 15 years old when she first discovered she had the rare lung disease, bronchiectasis. Struggling to breathe and maintain a normal childhood, Melyssa sought help from one of the Institute for Respiratory Health’s clinical researchers, Prof Phil Thompson. He provided advice and assistance in understanding and managing her condition.

In 2014, Melyssa participated in the Delirium 24 Hour Cycle Race, a fundraising initiative to help raise funds for research into rare lung disease. Watch Melyssa’ video.

For more information on clinical trials click here.

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