What Is Bronchiectasis? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Bronchiectasis is a lung disorder where the airways are permanently over-stretched due to mucus buildup. Read this lesson to learn what causes this condition, as well as what the symptoms and treatment options are.

What is Bronchiectasis?

Imagine your lungs stretching and growing in size, in a condition that is out of your control. Unfortunately, these conditions exist and people have to live with them! One such condition is bronchiectasis. Bronchiectasis is a lung condition where the airways become expanded due to excess mucus that cannot be cleared. As the condition progresses, more and more mucus builds up, and eventually this allows bacteria to grow. The resulting infection can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the lungs.

Bronchiectasis causes mucus to build up in the lungs, expanding the airways and ultimately allowing bacterial infections to take hold.

Causes of Bronchiectasis

Some cases of bronchiectasis are present from birth, while others develop over time. Usually the first symptoms appear during childhood, though adults may develop the condition as well. Other lung conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, measles, or the flu can also lead to bronchiectasis developing. Rarer, but still possible, is the development of the condition after the accidental inhalation of an object, as sometimes happens during childhood. Any illness or injury that causes lung damage or compromises the immune system has the potential to develop into bronchiectasis. The immune system works by sending white blood cells to the infected area, and this can cause inflammation to the surrounding tissues. When this inflammation causes permanent stretching of the lungs, mucus then builds up, causing further infections.

Symptoms of Bronchiectasis

There are a number of symptoms that are fairly standard once bronchiectasis develops. These include:

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • abnormal chest sounds
  • abnormal amounts of coughed up mucus or mucus production
  • chest pains

Someone with bronchiectasis will notice an increase in the amount of mucus they cough up each day, and over time they will begin feeling fatigued. They may also have trouble concentrating as a result of their compromised state. Severe cases of bronchiectasis may lead to coughing up blood, joint pain, and severe chest pains.

Treatment Options

Bronchiectasis is diagnosed by either sampling the mucus produced or through image scans such as X-rays or CT scans. A doctor may also run a lung function test, measuring lung volume and output.

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