Bronchiectasis is a disease affecting the walls of the 'bronchi' – the tubes that carry air through the lungs.
These tubes stay moist from a small amount of mucus. The mucus traps any dust or germs we may breathe in. It is then cleared by millions of tiny hairs in the bronchi called cilia. These beat continuously and move the mucus to the back of the mouth so the body can remove it.
In bronchiectasis, these tubes become damaged and so are unable to clear mucus as they should. If bacteria is inhaled, they multiply, and the lung becomes inflamed and infection can occur.
The body works to fight the bacteria but, if it does not succeed, inflammation continues and the germs can spread within the bronchial tubes. Long-term inflammation can damage the lungs.
Symptoms of bronchiectasis
These are the most common symptoms of bronchiectasis:
- cough with mucus (also known as phlegm or sputum) production - the mucus is often coloured
- wheeze, shortness of breath, and tightness of the chest
- blocked or runny nose - the discharge may come from the front of the nose or may drain down the back of the throat
- facial discomfort
- chest pain, which can be aching or sharp
- loss of appetite - in severe cases this can lead to weight loss
- tiredness, difficulty concentrating: this is common when fighting infection
What causes bronchiectasis?
There are many possible causes of bronchiectasis. Some people are born with problems with their bronchial walls. Others will have had a severe infection which has damaged the wall. This is especially common in young patients.
Some people have problems with their immune system. This means they are more likely to get frequent infections which damage the walls of the bronchi.
It can also come from having an underlying genetic condition. These conditions include:
cystic fibrosis, where the mucus in the bronchial tubes is too thick
primary ciliary dyskinesia, where the cilia lining the tubes do not beat properly.
How common is bronchiectasis?
A recent study conducted by the Department of Health suggested that 1 in every 2,000 hospital admissions in the UK were due to bronchiectasis.
At what age does bronchiectasis develop?
Bronchiectasis can develop at any age, so patients range from children to older people. But most patients who want treatment for their symptoms are middle-aged.
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