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Diagnosing and Treating Bronchiectasis

How Is Bronchiectasis Diagnosed?

Healthcare providers may use various tests to diagnose bronchiectasis and help determine the cause. These tests can include:

  • Blood tests to check for conditions associated with bronchiectasis
  • Chest CT (or CAT) scan or X-ray to look at lung structure
  • Collection of mucus (sputum) to check for growth of bacteria or other microbes

How Is Bronchiectasis Treated?


Treating bronchiectasis with antibiotics is common because bacteria often infect the bronchi. Your healthcare provider will decide whether you should be treated with antibiotics that you take by mouth or with antibiotics that are given through the veins (intravenously). Some antibiotics can be inhaled using a nebulizer machine.


Macrolides are a type of antibiotic that not only kill certain types of bacteria but also reduce inflammation in the bronchi. Examples of macrolides include azithromycin, erythromycin, and clarithromycin. Sometimes macrolides are given for long-term use over several months. This may be beneficial for some people but also may come with serious side effects, like diarrhea, nausea, hearing loss, dizziness, and the development of resistant bacteria in the lungs. You should discuss with your healthcare provider whether the use of a macrolide is appropriate for you.

Mucus Thinning Medication

Mucus thinning medications are also used to treat bronchiectasis. These medications are often given through a nebulizer, where it is mixed with hypertonic saline solution, turned into a mist, and inhaled deep into the lungs. The medication given through the nebulizer helps to dissolve mucus in the bronchi so that it can be coughed up more easily. Sometimes another inhaled mucus thinning medication called dornase alfa (Pulmozyme®) is given to patients with bronchiectasis who have non-CF bronchiectasis.

Mucus Thinning Devices

Some patients use devices to clear out mucus. Some of these devices have the patient exhale into a handheld device that causes air to flutter in the bronchi, which helps break up the mucus. Other devices are wearable and shake the chest to help loosen mucus. Talk to your doctor about whether or not any of these devices are right for you.

Clinical Trials

Some patients may be eligible for clinical trials. You can search for clinical trials on the Lung Association's Clinical Trial Registry or

    This content was developed in partnership with the CHEST Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the American College of Chest Physicians.

    Page Last Updated: March 13, 2018

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