Bronchiectasis is a rare chronic lung condition resulting from recurrent or persistent inflammation that ultimately damages the walls of the bronchial tubes. The ability to expel mucus is impaired, which leads to further infection and inflammation. Eventually (usually over a period of years), the affected air passages may be completely destroyed. Inflammation of the bronchial walls may be isolated to one area or may be distributed throughout the lungs. Bronchiectasis in childhood is now rare, thanks to vaccines to prevent whooping cough and antibiotics to control bacterial infections.

What Causes Bronchiectasis?

  • Currently, cystic fibrosis causes one-half of all cases of bronchiectasis.
  • Other diseases that affect the lungs (such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, measles, or tuberculosis) may result in bronchiectasis.
  • A congenital bronchial defect may distort or weaken the walls of the bronchial tubes.
  • Inhalation of foreign objects (such as a peanut) or aspiration of gastric contents may irritate and inflame bronchial walls, thus initiating a cycle of infection that may lead to bronchiectasis.
  • Lung cancer or a lung abscess may cause bronchiectasis.

Symptoms of Bronchiectasis

  • A persistent cough that produces large amounts of thick sputum that may be foul-smelling, brown, gray, green or possibly flecked with blood.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Bad breath
  • Fits of coughing brought on by a change in posture, such as lying down
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Abnormal chest sounds
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss, weight loss, clubbed fingers, fever, and anemia in more advanced cases

Prevention of Bronchiectasis

Be sure children have been properly vaccinated against childhood diseases.

Diagnosis of Bronchiectasis

  • Pulmonary function testing (PFT), which involves a series of breathing maneuvers to evaluate airflow and measure lung volume
  • High resolution computed tomography (HRCT), which is a special type of CT scan that provides high-resolution lung images
  • Chest x-rays, to confirm the diagnosis of bronchiectasis and rule out other lung conditions
  • Patient history and physical examination.
  • Sputum samples, which are analyzed.
  • Chest x-rays or a CT (computed tomography) scan are often used to confirm the diagnosis.

How to Treat Bronchiectasis

  • Bronchodilator medication may help to relieve symptoms of bronchiectasis by relaxing and opening the air passages in the lungs.
  • Steroids can help relieve symptoms of bronchiectasis.
  • Antibiotics may be used to help fight respiratory infections.
  • Mucus thinners and expectorants help loosen and clear mucus from lungs.
  • Don’t smoke; avoid dust- and smoke-filled rooms.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to dilute and loosen mucus secretions in the lungs.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat an infection. Take antibiotics for the full term prescribed.
  • Your doctor may instruct you in how to expel mucus from your lungs by assuming various positions that lower your head below your torso (a technique known as postural drainage).
  • Surgery may be required in advanced cases to remove affected portions of the lungs.

When to Call a Doctor

Call a doctor if you have a persistent cough, especially one that yields heavy sputum or mucus, or if you have recurrent respiratory infections.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 25 Aug 2011

Last Modified: 19 Nov 2014