How is bronchiectasis treated?
There is no cure for bronchiectasis. The main aims for treatment are to help clear mucus out of the lungs and to treat any infection quickly. On this page we will cover the main treatments for bronchiectasis in children.
- Medication, including antibiotics
- Physiotherapy (airway clearance exercises)
- What else can I do to help my child?
- Will my child need to go to hospital?
The medication that may be prescribed for your child will depend on the underlying cause of their bronchiectasis. Children with bronchiectasis caused by cystic fibrosis may benefit from medicines that will not help those with bronchiectasis from another cause.
Antibiotics are used to treat infections. Children with bronchiectasis may be prescribed a longer course of antibiotics than other children. Your doctor will discuss with you whether the infection can be treated with antibiotics taken by mouth. If your child is more unwell, they may need to be admitted to hospital for antibiotics given through a drip directly into the bloodstream.
If your child has bronchiectasis and keeps getting lots of infections, your doctor might recommend that they take a low dose of antibiotics to prevent frequent flare-ups, also called exacerbations. This decision is usually made by a specialist. This is sometimes called a prophylactic antibiotic. If this has been suggested, your doctor will help you weigh up the benefits against potential risks, including antibiotic resistance and the options for effective antibiotics in future.
Sometimes antibiotics are given by nebuliser. A nebuliser makes the medicine into a mist that is breathed in through a face mask. It helps direct the medicine into your child’s airways. Nebulised antibiotics may be recommended if your child has a particular type of infection, or when it is difficult to treat and needs long-term treatment.
Nebulised salt water solutions
Your child may be prescribed a nebuliser to deliver a salt water solution into their lungs. This may help move the mucus and clear the airways.
Your child may be given an inhaler to help relax and open their airways.
Physiotherapy is one of the most important ways of managing bronchiectasis in children, as it helps move and clear secretions from the airways. A physiotherapist will show you and your child how to do this effectively.
They might recommend:
- using a particular device for your child to blow into
- specific breathing exercises
- moving your child into different positions while using your hands to tap their chest (like playing a drum. This is called percussion)
Your child’s physiotherapist will recommend the most appropriate type of physiotherapy. They will consider your child’s age, their symptoms, and severity of their bronchiectasis. Your child’s physiotherapist will tell you when and how often to do airway clearance. They will tell you if this should continue every day even when your child is well.
Your child’s physiotherapist may use a nebulised salt water solution to help clear mucus before a session of airway clearance.
It can help to read aloud to your child or to have the TV, an audio book or some music on while doing their airway clearance. Try to make it into close time with your child and part of their normal routine, so it’s not just seen as a chore.
Living with bronchiectasis
“Both my boys live with bronchiectasis and I do physio with them twice a day. If they’re not well, they need physio 3 times a day.
If they get really bad, then they need to go to hospital and they get really intense physio.
My elder boy took to physio quite well. There’s lots of blowing exercises – such as blowing bubbles – and we make it fun. After a set of 10 blows, I hold him tight to feel his chest and he has a good cough to get rid of his mucus.
My younger boy needs a bit more coaxing. He got a bit upset at first, especially if he’s having physio in hospital. But it doesn’t hurt them and it’s absolutely worth it to get the mucus out.
I found it tricky to do at first, but you get used to it. I’d say to anyone: persevere – it makes such a difference!”
Joanne, whose boys are 10 and 4
Make sure they stay active
This helps clear the lungs of excess mucus. Regular exercise is important. Some parents have found that bouncing on a trampoline helps their child clear mucus.
Make sure they have a healthy diet
Fighting infection and coughing can use up your child’s energy so they may need more food than usual. Their immune system will need plenty of protein and vitamins to fight infection. Some people with bronchiectasis are deficient in vitamin D.
The NHS website has useful info about feeding your child and getting the vitamins you need.
Make sure they have enough to drink
This keeps mucus thin and makes it easier to cough up.
Let them cough whenever they need to
This is vital to help your child clear their lungs of mucus.
Don’t smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child, and do not let them smoke themselves. Being exposed to second hand smoke increases your child’s risk of picking up an infection.
Make sure your child has the flu jab
Also keep their other vaccinations up to date. Some health centres will not give vaccinations if your child is on antibiotics. You might need to explain that your child is on antibiotics regularly because of their bronchiectasis.
Look out for signs of colds and infections
Contact your doctor promptly so that your child can get the treatment they need as soon as possible. See a doctor if your child is coughing more than usual, or producing more or differently coloured mucus.
Most children with bronchiectasis can be looked after at home.
If your child gets a bad infection they may have to go to hospital. They may be in hospital for up to 2 or 3 weeks at a time, and be given antibiotics through a drip, and intensive physiotherapy.
You should get help straight away if:
- your child’s skin turns pale or blue or their lips and tongue are blue
- they are struggling to breathe or breathing fast
- their temperature is over 38C (101F)
- they are coughing up blood
- the medicine they are taking is not making them any better.
Find out when to call 999 about your child’s breathing
We also have information on bronchiectasis in adults.