Treating and Managing Bronchiectasis

How Is Bronchiectasis Treated?

The goal of bronchiectasis treatment is to treat any underlying conditions, prevent lung infections, remove excess mucus, and prevent flare-ups, also called exacerbations. 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. If antibiotics are appropriate, your healthcare provider will need to decide the right antibiotic treatment for you.  This will be based on the type of bacteria that is causing the infection, and possible bacterial resistance to certain antibiotics. 

Mucus thinning medication and expectorants may be prescribed to help you cough up mucus. Expectorants help loosen mucus in the lungs.  Mucus thinning  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. Good hydration is also recommended to help keep mucus moist and slippery. Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, is important.

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 technique often performed by a respiratory therapist  that involves clapping on the chest in a certain way to help 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.

There are breathing techniques that are used to move mucus to the upper airway in order for it to be coughed out.  The two techniques are called forced expiration technique (FET) and active cycle breathing (ACB). 

Other medications may be recommended including bronchodilators which relax the muscles around your airways to help open the airways and make breathing easier.  Inhaled corticosteroids may be used to help treat inflammation in your airways.

You may be eligible for Clinical Trials. Talk to your healthcare provider to see if a clinical trial may be right for you.  You can search for clinical trials on the Lung Association's Clinical Trial Registry or

How to Manage Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is a chronic condition, meaning it will not go away.   It is important to follow the treatment plan established by your healthcare provider. . You should also work closely with your healthcare provider to determine healthy habits that will help manage your symptoms and decrease the risk of 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 prescribed oral and inhaled medications and performing mucus clearance techniques daily.
  • Staying up to date on recommended vaccinations.
  • Take antibiotics as prescribed by your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider to discuss further treatment options.

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

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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