Bronchiectasis is a condition where the walls of the airways in the lungs (bronchi) become thickened from inflammation and infection. This narrows the airways, making it harder makes to breathe. It also becomes more difficult to clear the airways of mucus, leading to a cycle of frequent infection. Bronchiectasis causes permanent lung damage that reduces lung function.
What Causes Bronchiectasis?
There are many different causes of bronchiectasis, including:
- Airway obstructions
- Aspiration (inhalation of materials like food or saliva)
- Inherited conditions
- Immune system abnormalities
- Autoimmune/connective tissue/rheumatologic diseases
Sometimes no cause is identified; this is called idiopathic bronchiectasis.
What Are the Symptoms of Bronchiectasis?
- Chronic cough
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
Bronchiectasis can cause flare-ups (or exacerbations) that require immediate medical attention.
How Is Bronchiectasis Diagnosed?
- Chest computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Pulmonary function tests
- Blood/sputum tests
Because bronchiectasis has many different causes, your doctor will also test for underlying causes to help determine the appropriate treatment.
Can Bronchiectasis Be Cured?
Bronchiectasis is a chronic lung condition, meaning there is currently no cure. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and limiting flare-ups to improve quality of life.
How Is Bronchiectasis Treated?
Bronchiectasis treatments focus on eliminating/controlling infections and clearing mucus to make it easier to breathe. Some treatments are used for daily maintenance, while others help during flare-ups. Treatment will vary based on the underlying cause. Options include:
- Medications to thin mucus
- Airway clearance devices
- Positive expiratory pressure (PEP) devices
- Percussive vests
- Physical therapy for clearing mucus from the lungs
Current clinical trials explore new treatment options, including new medical therapies to target NTM infections.
Patients can make lifestyle changes to help reduce the risk of a flare-up. These include:
- Not smoking/stopping smoking
- Taking maintenance medications
- Staying hydrated
- Getting regular flu and pneumonia vaccinations
The outlook for people with bronchiectasis has improved dramatically over the past few decades. Working with a specialist to develop an individualized treatment can help manage symptoms and dramatically improve quality of life.
Bronchiectasis Care at Columbia
The Bronchiectasis Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian (CUIMC/NYP) is a leading site for comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for all types of bronchiectasis. The center uses a multidisciplinary approach to develop personalized therapy plans for each patient's unique condition. Our team collaborates with world-class specialists from across Columbia to also address underlying causes and conditions.