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Bronchiectasis - Irreversible Lung Disease

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession. I enjoy writing, reading historical novels, gardening, and helping people live a healthier life.

Overview of Lungs

Photo Courtesy of Google

What is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a disease state defined by localized, irreversible dilation of part of the bronchial tree in the lungs. It is classified as an obstructive lung disease, along with emphysema, bronchitis and cystic fibrosis. Asthmatic bronchitis symptoms are similar.

Bronchiectasis is the destruction and widening of the large airway. This disease can be present at birth and is called congenital bronchiectasis, or it develops later in life making it an acquired bronchiectasis. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is one of the major causes of bronchiectasis.

Kartagener syndrome, which affects the ability of the cilia in the lungs, aids in the development of the disease. Another common genetic cause is cystic fibrosis. where a small number of people will develop severe localized bronchiectasis. Young’s syndrome, which is similar to cystic fibrosis, is thought to contribute to the development of this disease.

Basically this is due to the occurrence of chronic, pulmonary infections. Another less common congenital cause is primary immunodeficiencies due to a weakened immune system that can’t fight against the infection. This would also hold true for someone with a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy, which can make cancer patients and patients with autoimmune diseases more susceptible to the disease.

Bronchiectasis Associated with other Diseases

The primary cause of anyone acquiring this disease is due to tuberculosis. It is a particular common disease for children with HIV as well.

This disease predisposes patients to a variety of pulmonary ailments, such as pneumonia and other opportunistic infections. Bronchiectasis can sometimes be an unusual complication of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, and it can occur in Crohn’s disease as well.

More recent evidence shows an increase in this disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis patients that smoke, with one study showing a 10 fold increase for these individuals. They have not proven that cigarette smoking is a primary cause of this disease.

Environmental exposures are also causes and include respiration infections, obstructions, inhalation and aspiration of ammonia and other toxic gases, pulmonary aspiration, alcoholism, heroin use, and various allergies.

Another cause is allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA) which is a condition characterized by an exaggerated response of the immune system to the fungus Aspergillus, occurring most often in patients with asthma or cystic fibrosis.

Diseased Lungs

Diseased Lungs


Symptoms of bronchiectasis often develop gradually and may occur months or even years after the causative event.

The symptoms may include:

  • Bluish skin color
  • Breath odor
  • Chronic cough with large amounts of foul-smelling sputum
  • Clubbing of fingers
  • Coughing up blood
  • Cough that gets worse when lying on one side
  • Fatigue
  • Paleness
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing
  • Chronic cough, coughing up thick, white, or green sputum

Lung Treatments

Treatment is aimed at controlling the infections and bronchial secretions, relieving airway obstruction and preventing complications.

Regular nebulizer treatments are used to clear the airway. A respiratory therapist can show the patient coughing exercises that help. If inhaled steroid therapy is consistently adhered it can reduce sputum production and decrease airway constriction over a period of time. Plus, it helps to prevent progression of the disease.

Inhalers, such as albuterol, fluticasone (Flovent), Atrovent and a new FDA approved inhaler, Besespi may help reduce the likelihood of infections by clearing the airway and reducing inflammation.

Antibiotics, bronchodilators and expectorants are often prescribed. Surgery to resect the lung may be necessary if medicine does not work or if the patient has massive bleeding.

Although not approved for use in the USA, Mannitol dry inhalation powder under the name Bronchitol has been granted “orphan drug” status by the FDA for use in patients with bronchiectasis and with cystic fibrosis. These patients tend to be on antibiotics every couple of months as mucous gets caught in the pockets of the lung tissue caused by the disease, and the patient is unable to cough them up effectively

Thyme a Great Healer

Thyme a Great Healer

Thyme a Great Healer

Thyme - a Healer of the Lungs

Thyme is an excellent herb for conditions of the lung as its properties have the ability to break down mucus, which makes it ideal for bronchitis and asthma. It is used as an expectorant by some people.

Thyme is antimicrobial; it reduces the severity of the symptoms of respiratory infections and kills the microorganism causing the infection. It is largely used as an aromatic oil, called Thyme Oil. This information is published by the British Herbal Medicine Association.

There are other types of herbal medicines that treat lung diseases, but I would recommend talking with your doctor and someone that is well experienced in herbal medicine. I am not recommending any specific treatments.

Typical Causes of Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis is often caused by recurrent inflammation or infection of the airways. It most often begins in childhood as a complication from infection, cystic fibrosis or inhaling a foreign object.

Cystic fibrosis causes about half of all bronchiectasis cases in the United States. Recurrent, severe lung infections (pneumonia, tuberculosis, and fungal infections), abnormal lung defenses, and obstruction of the airways by a foreign body or tumor are some of the risk factors.

There are several tests the doctor does to diagnose this condition. The doctor may hear small clicking, bubbling, wheezing, rattling or other sounds in the lower lobes of the lungs with a stethoscope as well.

Tests for Bronchietasis

Tests may include:

  • Aspergillosis precipitin test (to check for signs of the aspergillosis fungus)
  • Chest x-ray
  • Chest cat scans look for particular abnormalities
  • Sputum culture
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • PPD skin test to check for a prior tuberculosis infection
  • Serum immunoglobulin electrophoresis
  • Sweat test or other cystic fibrosis testing

The prognosis is better than you might think, and most people can live a fairly normal life with some disability. To prevent complications, lung infections must be treated promptly.

Childhood vaccinations and an annual flu shot will help the chance of avoiding infection. People with this disease quite often get a lung infection following the flu or some other type of bacterial disease. Avoid smoke and pollution as much as possible.

There are possible severe complications, such as cor pulmonale, which is basically right sided heart failure, coughing up blood and low oxygen levels in severe cases, in addition to recurrent pneumonia.

Understanding COPD


Call the doctor if you or a family member has chest pain or their shortness of breath gets worse. See your doctor when there is a change in the color of phlegm coughed up or if it is bloody.

Bronchiectasis is a serious, irreversible lung disease, even though close monitoring by your physician will keep you in better health. It is important to contact your doctor for any signs of infection or difficulty breathing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: is Bronchiectasis contagious?

Answer: It is a physical condition that causes damage to your lungs, and it is not contagious unless you have a lung infection. Infections are usually contagious, and require antibiotics.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on May 10, 2016:

Thank ypu for your comments. I wish you well as I know how hard it is to live with a chronic illness.

Peter A Edwards on April 30, 2016:

Very good article and well expressed. Living with an illness can be difficult as you never when you are going to get a flare up of the condition. Glad that the times I have been admitted to hospital have been reduced, it was getting more like a home than being a casual patient.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 01, 2011:

toknowinfo, I'm sorry for the loss of your mother which I knows difficult at any age. I'm glad to know that she lived a nice long life despite the disease. Thank you so much for your comments.

toknowinfo on February 28, 2011:

Excellent Hub. It was filled with interesting info. I took care of my mother who had to deal with bronchiectasis for some years. She developed it prior to her needing a heart valve transplant. The nebulizer treatments offered her the best relief. My Mom dealt with it the best she could, she lived to be 90 years old and I just lost her this past October. I look forward to learning more from your very informative articles. Rated up and useful.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 01, 2010:

Maria, Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I have been fortunate in being able to take over the counter prescriptions at this times. I know that things can get worse and no, I don't take anything for granted either. I wish you the best possible health for the future.

maria on December 01, 2010:

hi, iv hade bronchiectasis now for around 8years iv spent many weeks in hospital iv had a hickman line fitted so the nurses come to my house 3 times a day and give me my antibotic throgh my line, its made my life a bit easier by staying at home and less chance ov cathing diffrent bugs from hospital, but sometimes i do have to go in if iv caught a bad infection, iv also been told if anyone has a cold to stay away from them sometimes i dont want to leave the house in case i pick any germs up which is not good my life has changed and i dont take things for granted anymore

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 01, 2010:

Nancy, I appreciate your comment.

nancy_30 from Georgia on November 01, 2010:

Thank you for this very informative hub. I learned a lot from it.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 04, 2010:

Support Med, Thank so much for your comments.

Support Med. from Michigan on September 04, 2010:

Very thorough and well written. Voted/rated.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 25, 2010:

Wendy, Thanks for your comment.

LeanMan, I'm glad you haven't smoked and so sorry to hear about your father. If he doesn't have lung cancer than it might be COPD as that is common. Thanks for your comment.

Tony from At the Gemba on August 25, 2010:

Thank you for your hub Pam, my father is in the final stages of something very similar, i am not good with medical names or I would try to list it here. The problem however is hereditary and brought to the fore by smoking, my grandfather who was a heavy smoker died from lung disease and my father now is very close also a heavy smoker. Thankfully I have never smoked, I hope that neither I nor my children have to suffer from this!

Wendy Henderson from Cape Coral on August 25, 2010:

Very informative hub about Bronchiectasis. Thank you.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 25, 2010:

Audry, I spent so many years as a nurse in many capacities that writing about medical issues comes kind of naturally. Thanks for your comment.

Katiem, Thanks for your comments.

Katie McMurray from Ohio on August 24, 2010:

Pam, Thanks for the detailed facts on Bronchiectasis an Irreversible lung disease. I found this helpful, knowledgeablt and informative in the area of Lung Disease.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on August 24, 2010:

I'm thinking you are going to medical school, Pamela - another informative hub!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 24, 2010:

Cybersupe, Thank you so much for your comments and the blessing.

JY3502, Thank you for your comment. These article do take too much time and I think I need to lighten up if I'm going to learn all the new things coming my way.

John Young from Florence, South Carolina on August 24, 2010:


Sorry to hear you have that. But your article shows massive research. Something I don't have the patience for. Now,I write to entertain, although I was a news reporter for many years. I can do articles like this, but frankly I've gotten lazy. LOL. Hope you continue to feel OK.

CYBERSUPE from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A. on August 24, 2010:

Hi Pamela,

A very informative and a great research project on your part. So sorry to hear about your lung problem. I wish you the very best Pamela and May God Bless!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 24, 2010:

Hello, Thank you for your concern and I am lucky to this point as I have a mild case and it just started in this past year. It's a bit annoying as I have never been a smoker, who knows why these things happen. It sounds like you outgrew your lung problems, thank goodness. Thanks so much for your comments.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 24, 2010:

I am so sorry to read about your illness. Anything with chest and lund it horrible. I had bronchitis from the age 0 till when I was seven. I still can remember fighting for every breath. It is horrible. Then I had tonsilites. Thank you for your hub with well researched information.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 24, 2010:

Samson, I'm sure you've had the pneumonia shot but that only covers one type of bacteria. Best of luck with your health and thanks for your comment.s

Anginwu,Thank you for your comment.

Cagsil, I'm glad you learned some new information. Your fried with COPD could have it as it can attack just some small areas of the lungs. I appreciate your comments.

Raymond D Choiniere from USA on August 23, 2010:

Hey Pamela, that is one excellently written and researched hub you've created. I have not known anyone with, but I do know someone with COPD and a few other lung related problems. I do know that she does not suffer from Bronchiectasis. I have to admit I certainly learned something new and it is the second time today. Thank you for your due diligence and sharing. Much appreciated. :)

anglnwu on August 23, 2010:

Another well-researched hub. I've never heard of this before, so it's useful to me.Thanks.

Sam from Tennessee on August 23, 2010:

voted up & useful! Well written and researched, informative and concise. I have COPD & asthma, having had pneumonia 7 times and in constant fear of recurrence. Thanks for this information...

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 23, 2010:

Tom, This is a disease that may not be that well known unless you happen to have it and I got it last year. I do pretty well however, but I am on antibiotics a lot. I didn't know if many people would be interested in this disease but it seems there is always someone who has the disease or who knows someone that has a disease, so I decided to write it. You must be careful with your lungs as well, since your history does involve lung problems. Thanks for the comments.

Tom Whitworth from Moundsville, WV on August 23, 2010:


Thank you for another well researched hub. At first I thought you were writing about bronchitis, which I had every year until puberty, after having pneumonia at 3 months of age.