Bronchiectasis (say “brawn-kee-ECK-tuh-sus”) is a lung problem in which the breathing tubes are stretched and become larger. The buildup of mucus causes the stretching and can lead to swelling and infections. You may find it harder to breathe and cough up mucus out of your lungs. Some people are born with it. Other people get it because of another health problem, usually cystic fibrosis or a lung infection such as pneumonia or tuberculosis.
Symptoms are often different for everyone. But a cough that brings up mucus, or sputum, is common. The condition is usually treated with antibiotics, medicines to relax the airways (bronchodilators), and medicines to make it easier to cough up mucus (expectorants).
Bronchiectasis: When to call
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You have severe trouble breathing.
- You cough up more than 1 cup of blood.
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have chest pain.
- You have shortness of breath.
- You have a fever.
- Your mucus (sputum) is bloody or changes color.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You are coughing up more sputum than before.
- Your symptoms get worse or do not get better with treatment.
How can you care for bronchiectasis?
- Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
- If you have cystic fibrosis, follow your treatment plan.
- If you or your child has bronchiectasis, follow directions from your doctor or respiratory therapist for moving your or your child’s body into different positions to help drain fluid. This is called postural drainage, and it helps to ease breathing and prevent infections.
- You also may do chest percussion on your child. This is strong clapping of the chest with a cupped hand to vibrate the airways in the lungs. The vibration helps your child cough up mucus. You may see a respiratory therapist to learn how to do chest percussion.
- Use an airway clearance device, such as a flutter valve, as directed to help remove mucus from the lungs.
- Avoid lung infections.
- Get shots to protect against the flu and pneumococcal disease.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid close contact with people who have colds or the flu.
- Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Stay inside, if you can, on days when the pollution level is high.