Understanding Bronchiectasis

What is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is an abnormal stretching and enlarging of the lungs' airways caused by mucus blockage. When the body cannot get rid of mucus, it becomes stuck and builds up in the airways. The blockage and accompanying infection cause inflammation, leading to the weakening and widening of the passages. The weakened passages can become scarred and deformed, allowing more mucus and bacteria to build up. This results in a cycle of infection and blocked airways.

Bronchiectasis can develop at any age. It begins most often in childhood, but symptoms may not appear until much later. Bronchiectasis can occur as part of a birth defect, such as primary ciliary dyskinesia or cystic fibrosis.  It can develop after birth as a result of injury or other diseases, like tuberculosis, pneumonia and influenza. It also can be caused by a blockage in your airways due to a growth or something you inhaled as a child such as a piece of a toy or peanut.

Bronchiectasis cannot be cured. But with proper treatment most people with bronchiectasis can live a normal life. The sooner your bronchiectasis is detected and treated, the better the chance of preventing more damage to your lungs.

How Serious is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis causes your airways to slowly lose their ability to clear out mucus. This causes mucus to build up, and allows bacteria to grow. The result can be repeated, serious lung infections. Each lung infection can damage your airways. Gradually, your airways lose their ability to move air in and out. This can mean your organs won't get enough oxygen to function properly.

Bronchiectasis can lead to serious health problems including respiratory failure, heart failure and collapsed lung. But with treatment, most people can lead normal lives without major disability.

What Causes Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is caused by an injury to your airway walls. The injury could be caused by a lung infection such as severe pneumonia, pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis or fungal infections.

Some underlying conditions that damage the airways and increase lung infections can cause bronchiectasis as cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia.

Bronchiectasis also can be caused by a blockage in your airways due to a growth or something you inhaled as a child such as a piece of a toy or peanut.

A form of the disease called congenital bronchiectasis is the result of a problem with how the lungs form in a fetus. This type of bronchiectasis usually affects infants and children.