Treating and Managing Bronchiectasis

How Is Bronchiectasis Treated?

The goal of bronchiectasis treatment is to prevent infections and flare-ups. This is done with a combination of medication, hydration and chest physical therapy. Oxygen therapy may be recommended to raise low blood oxygen levels. Surgery may be recommended in extreme situations where the bronchiectasis is isolated to a section of lung or there is excessive bleeding.

Antibiotics are the most common treatment for bronchiectasis. Oral antibiotics are suggested for most cases, but harder to treat infections may require intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Macrolides are a specific type of antibiotics that not only kill certain types of bacteria but also reduce inflammation in the bronchi. Though they may be beneficial for some people, they are only used in the most severe situations because they have extreme side-effects.

Mucus Thinning Medication may be prescribed to help bronchiectasis’ patients cough up mucus. 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. They are commonly used along with a decongestant.

Airway Clearance Devices: Some patients exhale into a hand-held device to help break up mucus. Some of these devices are Oscillating Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP), Intrapulmonary Percussive Ventilation (IPV) and Postural Drainage. Chest Physical Therapy (CPT), or chest physiotherapy, is a popular respiratory therapist technique that involves clapping on the chest in a certain way that helps loosen mucus from the lungs so it can be expelled. Electronic chest clappers or vests are now available to make it easier to perform CPT at home.

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

How to Manage Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a long-term condition with symptoms that need to be managed over many years. Patients should work closely with a doctor to determine healthy habits that will limit flare-ups. Some suggestions may be:

  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Maintain a healthy diet, low in sodium, added sugars, saturated fats and refined grains.
  • Stay hydrated, drinking plenty of water to help prevent mucus build-up.
  • Be diligent about taking oral and inhaled medications and performing mucus clearance techniques daily.
  • Staying up to date on vaccinations.
  • Take antibiotics for one to two weeks during flare-ups.

Despite maintaining a healthy lifestyle, occasional flare-ups may occur. This often happens because of a new respiratory infection or overgrowth of bacteria. Symptoms such as increased mucus (sputum) production that is bloody or a different color, fever, fatigue, weight loss and worsening shortness of breath may be a sign you’re experiencing a flare-up. In these instances, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Finding Support

The Lung Association recommends patients and caregivers join our Living with Lung Disease Support Community or a Better Breathers Club to connect with others facing this disease. You can also call the Lung Association's Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a trained respiratory professional who can help answer your questions and connect you with support.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: March 26, 2020

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