Bronchiectasis (brong-ke-EK-ta-sis) is a condition in which damage to the airways causes them to widen and become flabby and scarred. The airways are tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. Bronchiectasis usually is the result of an infection or other condition that injures the walls of your airways or prevents the airways from clearing mucus. Mucus is a slimy substance that the airways produce to help remove inhaled dust, bacteria, and other small particles.
In bronchiectasis, your airways slowly lose their ability to clear out mucus. When mucus can’t be cleared, it builds up and creates an environment in which bacteria can grow. This leads to repeated, serious lung infections. Each infection causes more damage to your airways. Over time, the airways lose their ability to move air in and out. This can prevent enough oxygen from reaching your vital organs.
Bronchiectasis can lead to serious health problems, such as respiratory failure, atelectasis (at-eh-LEK-tah-sis), and heart failure.
Bronchiectasis can affect just one section of one of your lungs or many sections of both lungs.
The initial lung damage that leads to bronchiectasis often begins in childhood. However, symptoms may not appear until months or even years after you start having repeated lung infections.
In the United States, common childhood infections, such as whooping cough and measles, used to cause many cases of bronchiectasis. However, these causes are now less common due to the use of vaccines and antibiotics.
Now, in the United States, bronchiectasis usually is due to an underlying medical condition that injures the airway walls or prevents the airways from clearing mucus. Examples of such conditions include cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia (SIL-e-ar-e dis-ki-NE-ze-ah).
Bronchiectasis that occurs in only one part of the lung may be due to a blockage rather than an underlying condition.
Bronchiectasis can be congenital or acquired. Congenital bronchiectasis usually affects infants and children. It’s the result of a problem with how the lungs form in a fetus.
Acquired bronchiectasis occurs as a result of another medical condition. It can affect adults and older children. This type of bronchiectasis is more common than the congenital type.
Bronchiectasis can’t be cured. However, with proper care, most people who have it can enjoy a good quality of life.
Early diagnosis and treatment of bronchiectasis are important. The sooner your doctor can start treating your bronchiectasis and any underlying conditions, the better the chances of preventing further damage to your lungs.