Bronchiectasis (bron-kee-EK-tuh-sis) is a condition in which airways in the lungs become abnormally stretched and widened due to inflammation and mucus blockage. It can affect small or larger areas of the lung depending on how severe it is.
The trachea, or windpipe, carries inhaled air from the throat to the chest cavity. At its bottom end, the trachea divides into left and right air tubes called bronchi, which connect to the lungs. Within the lungs, the bronchi branch into smaller bronchi and even smaller tubes called bronchioles. These airways are protected by mucus that removes foreign particles that enter the lungs.
When someone has bronchiectasis, an infection or other condition damages the airways and causes them to become widened, floppy, and unable to clear out mucus. Large amounts of mucus build up, stretching the bronchi and allowing bacteria to grow. This leads to repeated lung infections that further damage the bronchi. The main symptom of bronchiectasis is a chronic cough with large amounts of sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus).
Bronchiectasis can be present at birth (congenital bronchiectasis), but it usually develops later in life (acquired bronchiectasis). Common causes of bronchiectasis include cystic fibrosis, lung infections, pneumonia, conditions that weaken the immune system, and airway obstruction due to a tumor or inhaled foreign object.
Treatment for bronchiectasis usually involves medications to treat infections and help drain mucus from the affected airways.
There is no cure for bronchiectasis, but proper treatment allows most people who have it to lead normal, productive lives. Treatment should start as soon as possible after the condition is diagnosed in order to minimize damage to the lungs.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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