Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the airways of the lungs become permanently widened. This type of damage to the lungs leads to a build-up of mucus in the airways, causing problems like repeated, serious lung infection. The airways of a normal, healthy lung produce mucus to help remove dust and bacteria. The mucus is then cleared out, and more mucus is produced. In a person with bronchiectasis, the widened airways are no longer able to properly clear out the mucus, causing it to build up. Mucus build-up leads to repeated infection which weakens the lungs. Eventually, it could lead to respiratory failure, atelectasis, or heart failure.
Bronchiectasis is usually caused by damage to lungs from a lung infection or other medical condition. Infections which may lead to bronchiectasis may include severe pneumonia, whooping cough or measles, tuberculosis, or fungal infections. Other, long-term conditions which raise the risk for lung infections and may lead to bronchiectasis include allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), cystic fibrosis, immunodeficiency disorders such as HIV and AIDS, chronic pulmonary aspiration, and connective tissue disease among others. Other causes may include blocking of the airways due to a lodged object or a tumor, or damage to lungs while the fetus was being formed.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), initial airway damage that leads to bronchiectasis often begins in childhood. Signs and symptoms, however, may not appear until years later. The most common symptoms include:
If your doctor suspects you may have bronchiectasis, he or she will most likely conduct the following tests: Physical assessment. Your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope as you breathe in and out. If your doctor hears that your airways are not clear, he or she will order more tests.
Unfortunately, the damage to the lungs is permanent. Proper treatment can help to prevent bronchiectasis from getting worse and to keep infection away. If you have been diagnosed with bronchiectasis, your doctor may suggest the following things:
You may be referred to a physiotherapist who will teach you exercises to help clear your airways and remove mucus from your lungs. Do these exercises regularly to avoid infection. The physical therapist may also do chest physical therapy (CPT) with you, which involves clapping or banging your chest and back to help loosen the mucus from the lungs. You may also be prescribed medication to manage your condition. These may include antibiotics, bronchodilators, expectorants, or mucus-thinning medications.
Each time the lungs become infected or damage, it raises the chances for bronchiectasis. Childhood vaccines for measles and whooping cough prevent infections which lead to bronchiectasis. Smoking and inhaling other dangerous fumes or gases increases the risk for bronchiectasis. Infants and toddlers must be watched to make sure that they don't swallow objects which can cause damage to the lungs. Keep small objects out of reach from young children. If a foreign object is swallowed or inhaled, seek immediate medical attention. With proper treatment and attention, people with bronchiectasis can lead normal lives of very good quality.
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