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Bronchiectasis is a condition where the airway (bronchi) in the lungs become widened and damaged.
In healthy lungs a small amount of mucus is secreted into the bronchi. This acts as a protective lining, trapping dust and bacteria that have been breathed in. To prevent a build-up of this mucus, the bronchi are lined with microscopic hairs, called cilia, which clear the mucus from the airways.
In bronchiectatic lungs these cilia do not effectively clear the mucus so it builds up, making the bronchi prone to infections which can spread. If you get repeated infections, the bronchi can become permanently widened and damaged. This damage results in permanent lung inflammation, and overproduction of mucus from the mucus glands.
To find out more about bronchiectasis, have a look on the British Lung Foundation website.
There is often no obvious cause, but it may be because of one or more of the following:
The symptoms of bronchiectasis can include:
Bronchiectasis is diagnosed by:
You may have one or more of these symptoms if you have an infection:
In the 1950 and 1960s lung surgery for bronchiectasis was quite common. Nowadays, surgery will only be performed if a patient has severe but localised disease.
In the case of a severe exacerbation or a ‘flare-up’, it may be necessary to admit you to hospital where more intensive treatment can be given.
Here are some common medications to treat bronchiectasis. Your doctor will decide which is most appropriate for you:
Steroids These reduce inflammation and the amount of sputum produced.
Antibiotics This is to treat infection.
Bronchodilators This makes breathing easier and reduces breathlessness and wheezing by reducing muscle spasm in the bronchi. For more information about treatment for bronchiectasis, have a look at the British Lung Foundation website.
This improves breathing control and helps to remove secretions. It should ideally be completed until the huff has been dry with no sputum on two consecutive cycles, although some patients will always have some residual sputum.
This can be done in sitting or
It has three parts:
1. Breathing control: this is gentle breathing at your normal rate, with your chest and shoulders relaxed.
2. Deep breathing: these are deep breaths which are each held for a few seconds. This assists the air flow behind the secretions which makes it easier for you to remove them. If done correctly, your stomach should gently rise as you breathe in.
3. Huffing: this helps move secretions from the lungs into the mouth. It is more effective than coughing and should not cause wheezing. The air is breathed out through contraction of the stomach muscles. It is a similar technique to misting up a mirror.
The physiotherapist will show you how to complete the ACBT. The more you practise it, the easier and more effective it will become.
For more information about physiotherapy exercises, have a look at the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care website.
If you have any more questions about this booklet or need further information, please contact your physiotherapist.
Princess Royal Hospital: 01444 441881, ask for bleep 6224.
Royal Sussex County Hospital: 01273 696955, ask for bleep 8498.
Please contact us if you need this leaflet in an alternative language.
This information is intended for patients receiving care in Brighton & Hove or Haywards Heath.
The information here is for guidance purposes only and is in no way intended to replace professional clinical advice by a qualified practitioner.
Publication Date: May 2021
Review Date: February 2024