What is bronchiectasis?

If you or your child has bronchiectasis, it means you have a lung disease which gives you breathing problems. It makes you more likely to get lots of chest infections. There’s no cure, but you can take medicines and do exercises to help you breathe more easily.

We’ve brought together the best research about bronchiectasis and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

Bronchiectasis means the airways in your lungs aren’t working properly. It affects the way you breathe and makes you more likely to get chest infections.

How it works

To understand bronchiectasis, it helps to know a bit about how your lungs work.

Your lungs are in the middle of your chest, behind your ribs.

They are like spongy, stretchy bags that fill up with air when you breathe in. They empty when you breathe out.

When you take a breath, air goes down your windpipe and into your lungs through a network of thin tubes (bronchi, which are airways in the lungs). At the end of these tubes are tiny sacs, called alveoli. Oxygen from the air goes into your bloodstream through blood vessels in these sacs.

The lungs make small amounts of fluid, called mucus. Mucus keeps your airways moist and helps get rid of dirt and germs. Tiny hairs (called cilia) inside your airways sweep excess mucus, dirt, and germs out of your lungs when you cough.

If you have bronchiectasis, some of the airways in your lungs are too wide. This usually happens because the walls of the airways have been damaged. Because the airways are too wide, mucus builds up inside them.

When you have a lot of mucus in your lungs, you may find it hard to cough it all out. The mucus that gets left behind can be infected by bacteria. This means you get a chest infection.

Getting a lot of chest infections can make it hard for you to breathe. You may feel very tired and unwell. Infections can also damage your lungs further. So it’s important to have treatment quickly when you get a chest infection. For more, see Treating chest infections.

Bronchiectasis usually happens because something has damaged your lungs. This could have been before you were born. Many people with bronchiectasis have an inherited condition called cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis makes you produce too much mucus. Other people are born with a condition that means the cilia in their airways don’t work properly.

Most people who have inherited bronchiectasis are diagnosed when they are babies or children. But some people get it later in childhood or when they are adults.

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