Bronchiectasis

What is bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a long-term condition that affects the airways in your lungs.

When you breathe, air is carried into your lungs through your airways, also called bronchi. The bronchi divide again and again into thousands of smaller airways called bronchioles. Your airways contain tiny glands that produce a small amount of mucus. Mucus helps to keep your airways moist, and traps the dust and germs that you breathe in. The mucus is moved away by tiny hairs, called cilia, which line your airways.

If you have bronchiectasis, your airways are scarred and inflamed with thick mucus, also called phlegm or sputum. Your airways become widened and cannot clear themselves properly. This means mucus builds up and your airways can become infected by bacteria. Pockets in the airways mean that mucus gets trapped and is likely to get infected.

healthy versus bronchiectasis lung image

Sometimes, if the number of bacteria multiply, your airways won’t be able to clear themselves and you’ll get a chest infection or a flare-up of your symptoms. It’s important to recognise and treat chest infections. If you don’t get treatment, your airways may be damaged further. The scarring around your airways can’t be reversed, but there are ways you and your health care team can treat and manage bronchiectasis.

Bronchiectasis is sometimes called non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis. This is because there is a different condition called cystic fibrosis. People who have cystic fibrosis can have lung symptoms similar to those of bronchiectasis, but the treatments and outlook are different.

Symptoms of bronchiectasis >

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Last medically reviewed: March 2017. Due for review: March 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.