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What is Bronchiectasis?*
Bronchiectasis is a progressive lung disease that causes damage to the airways in your lungs. With this disease, the airways grow stiffer and develop scarring, which interrupts the ability for your lungs to clear out mucus. As a result, this mucus builds up in the lungs, causing breathing difficulties and potentially causing inflammation and the development of other serious lung conditions.
As bronchiectasis inhibits your body’s ability to take in the necessary amounts of oxygen, it becomes more difficult to take part in the activities you love. As the disease progresses, it may even become too difficult to do something as simple as walking without losing your breath.
Like many chronic lung conditions, bronchiectasis has no cure. However, medical treatment can help reduce the severity of its symptoms and assist in slowing the progression of the disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Bronchiectasis?
Since bronchiectasis is a chronic disease, its symptoms may develop slowly over time. However, they can also develop quickly, depending on the nature of your condition.
The symptoms of bronchiectasis include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Persistent coughing that might produce mucus or blood
- Tightness of the chest
- Uncontrollable weight loss
- Clubbing of the fingertips and toes
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical assistance immediately. Catching the disease in its earlier stages allows more treatment possibilities.
What Are the Causes of Bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis typically occurs as a result of your immune system’s reaction to a perceived threat in your airways. This reaction is usually a form of inflammation.
Inflammation goes away on its own in many cases, but if it doesn’t it can cause permanent damage to the airways of your lungs. The scarring from the inflammation causes your airways to lose elasticity and grow wider, which leads to mucus buildup.
It is difficult to identify the exact causes of bronchiectasis in many cases, but it is known to have been linked with the following:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Weakened immune system
- Stomach acid in the lungs
- Allergic reaction to spores from a fungus called Aspergillus
Cystic fibrosis is the most common cause of bronchiectasis, but if you don’t have cystic fibrosis, you should still seek medical attention immediately when you experience the symptoms of bronchiectasis. Ignoring your symptoms can result in further scarring and damage and, potentially, another chronic lung condition.
How is Bronchiectasis diagnosed?
Diagnosing your bronchiectasis early is important for developing an effective treatment. As part of your diagnosis, your physician will perform a series of physical tests and examinations. He or she will also review your medical history and discuss your health and wellness and any smoking habits you may have had in your lifetime.
Some of the tests your physician may order to accurately diagnose bronchiectasis include:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan
- Pulmonary function test
- Sputum test
- Blood-gas analysis
- Listening to the lungs for obstruction
How is Bronchiectasis treated?
Treatment varies depending on individual factors, such as the severity of the condition and the patient’s age, overall health and any smoking habits.
If you’re a smoker, the first step of treatment is to quit smoking. Quitting helps reduce the amount of irritation that may be causing your bronchiectasis.
Treatment options for bronchiectasis may include some of the following:
- Bronchodilators – these are medications that can help relax airways and improve your ability to breathe
- Oxygen therapy – this is supplemental oxygen, which may be prescribed for certain times of the day or throughout the entire day depending on the lack of oxygen
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – this includes exercising, counseling and nutritional guidance to help improve your lifestyle and reduce the amount of time you spend in a hospital.
Is Bronchiectasis preventable?
In cases of cystic fibrosis and other lung diseases, it is difficult to predict and prevent bronchiectasis.
If you do not smoke or have quit smoking, you greatly reduce your chances of developing bronchiectasis.
Furthermore, if you work in an environment with a lot of dust, chemicals, smoke and asbestos, you need to wear proper safety equipment. Wearing the right equipment and following proper safety measures should help reduce your chances of developing lung disease.
We’re Here To Help
Would you like to speak with a Patient Care Specialist at Centers for Respiratory Health about bronchiectasis? Whether you’re experiencing symptoms or would like to know more about prevention, we’re available to talk with you. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.