See a doctor Skip to content

What is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis affects your airways. It’s happens when they scar and widen, due to severe inflammation, this leads to a build up of phlegm and bacteria.

It is a long-term condition, but it is manageable day-to-day with treatment. It does mean you’re more susceptible to chest infections.

What are the symptoms of bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis presents itself with some common signs and symptoms, though these may take years to develop. These include:

  • A chronic, phlegmy cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Sinus problems
  • Clubbing on your finger and toe nails, which is where the skin thickens

Once you experience a widening of your airways, they become more prone to infection, as the bacteria, fungus or virus can become trapped in the excess phlegm that’s in your airways.

The infection can then damage your airways further, meaning even more phlegm builds up, so your symptoms may get progressively gets worse - that’s why it’s important to get treatment.

Bronchiectasis in children

If you notice a phlegmy cough in your baby or child, if they are coughing up phlegm, of if they’re wheezing or breathless, you should see a GP, as early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent scarring.

The bronchiectasis symptoms to look out for in babies and children include:

  • A chronic, phlegmy cough
  • A runny nose, with green mucus
  • A fever
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting phlegm
  • Faster than normal breathing
  • Fatigue
  • General feeling of being unwell
  • Losing weight or not growing as expected

If your child or baby is experiencing any of these symptoms then it is best to contact a doctor, so that bronchiectasis can be diagnosed or ruled out. If the fever doesn’t subside with treatment, or if they cough up blood, seek urgent medical attention.

How is bronchiectasis diagnosed?

Our doctors can listen to your symptoms to get a really good understanding of how they are affecting you. They’ll ask about your medical history, and possibly about your lifestyle.

If bronchiectasis is suspected, you’ll normally need to see a lung specialist who can confirm or rule out the diagnosis. Our doctors can explain how to do this.

Tests you may need to have include:

  • Blood tests to check for infection and to see how your immune system is functioning
  • A CT scan to look at your chest in more detail, to see if any widening of the airways can be seen
  • A chest X-ray to check your lungs and to rule out other conditions
  • A lung function test to check how well your lungs are working
  • Phlegm sample to check for infection
  • Purified protein derivative (PPD), which is a skin test that looks for tuberculosis
  • Your sweat may be tested to check for high levels of salt, which can be a sign of cystic fibrosis

What causes bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is caused by widening of the airways that go into your lungs. Sometimes, it’s not known why this happens (referred to as idiopathic bronchiectasis).

However, there are some conditions that are linked to the condition:

  • Whooping cough
  • Tuberculosis (TB)
  • Measles
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lungs
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Immune system deficiencies
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Aspiration, where your stomach contents leak into you airways
  • Allergic aspergillosis, which is where your lungs have an allergic reaction to a fungus
  • Arthritis

This is not a full list - a specialist will look at your medical history to see if a cause can be found. You may have had an illness as a child, which has lead to bronchiectasis, or it may be a condition you have as an adult.

What is the treatment for bronchiectasis?

If your airway becomes widened and damaged, it cannot recover, but there are treatments available to help you with your symptoms day to day, and to help prevent the condition getting worse and from infections developing.

People with bronchiectasis may be treated with:

  • Antibiotics - these can be used to treat and prevent lung infections. In rare cases, these may be prescribed long-term.
  • Medications to help thin your phlegm - these may be inhaled through a nebuliser.
  • Bronchodilators - these are inhaled and help relax your airways.
  • Respiratory physiotherapy - you’ll be shown breathing exercises that help clear your airways.
  • Expectorants - these help you to cough up phlegm.
  • Devices to help remove phlegm from your lungs.
  • Surgery - bronchiectasis can develop in just one part of the lung and if this is the case then surgery to remove it may be beneficial for you.

If the condition is caused by an underlying problem, this will need to be treated too.

There are changes you can make to your lifestyle to help your symptoms too:

  • If you smoke, you should quit
  • Keep yourself healthy - take regular exercise, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and drink plenty of water
  • Have the flu vaccine annually

How Push Doctor can help

At Push Doctor, you can speak to a GP at a time that suits you. Our doctors are available seven days a week. You can have an online video consultation on any device.

You can speak to a doctor from the comfort of your own home, while at work or even when you are out and about. Our doctors can go through your bronchiectasis symptoms with you, and recommend your next steps.