- Long-term cough that produces phlegm
Bronchiectasis may affect anyone of any age, but most commonly the middle-aged segment. Unfortunately, the damage done to the lungs by bronchiectasis is permanent.
What causes bronchiectasis?
Although in many cases a specific cause for bronchiectasis cannot be found, known risk factors include:
- A history of serious lung infections such as pneumonia or whooping cough
- A weakened immune system that leaves the bronchi susceptible to infections
- Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) – an allergy to a specific kind of fungi that causes the bronchi to become inflamed
- Aspiration – inhaling foreign objects
- Cystic fibrosis and ciliary defects
- Connective tissue diseases
How does bronchiectasis affect the lungs?
The bronchi are small tubes in the lungs that carry air to the alveoli, from where oxygen is then absorbed into the bloodstream.
The walls of the bronchi are usually covered in mucus on the inside to protect them against damage and infection. However, inflammation can weaken the bronchi, causing airway dilatation and increased mucus accumulation. This makes the bronchi more susceptible to infections.
Infections cause more damage to the bronchi, further increasing mucus production, thereby initiating a cycle that repeatedly damages the bronchi.
Although the damage to the lungs from bronchiectasis is permanent, there are a number of treatment options that aim to relieve symptoms and prevent the damage from escalating. Early diagnosis is key in limiting the amount of damage done to the lungs.
Self-care measures that patients can take to relieve their symptoms and perhaps arrest the progression of the condition include:
- Not smoking
- Having an annual flu vaccine
- Having the pneumococcal vaccine
- Taking regular exercise
- Staying hydrated
- Staying away from people with colds or the flu
- Eating a balanced diet.
Antibiotics are used for lung infections. Although antibiotics for lung infections are usually taken orally, for severe infections antibiotics may be administered intravenously.