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What Is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is another lung disease. Sometimes it’s symptoms may mimic asthma. Sometimes it occurs along with asthma. So, what is bronchiectasis? Here’s all you need to know.

What is bronchiectasis?

Unlike asthma, this inflammation is usually the result of a lung infection. These usually occur early in life, although can occur at any age. Most often, the lung infection was severe and prolonged.

Your immune system responds to infections. They release chemicals that cause airway inflammation. With some severe infections, these chemicals may stay elevated in your airways for quite some time. When this happens they can be damaging to tissues lining airways. This causes airway walls to become chronically scarred.1,2

Like asthma, it involves airway inflammation

So, severe infections causes prolonged inflammation. This can eventually lead to airway scarring. This is the most common suspected cause of bronchiectasis. Sometimes it’s caused by other diseases, such as cystic fibrosis (discussed below). And sometimes the cause remains unknown.2-4

This scarring causes airways to become abnormally dilated. This causes mucus secreted by airway cells to become thick and sticky. This makes it hard to move these secretions to your upper airway.

The accumulation of thick, sticky, mucus in airways creates a breeding ground for germs to collect. This is why people with bronchiectasis are prone to repeated lung infections.

How is bronchiectasis like asthma?

They are both associated with an immune response. They both can cause flare-ups. Common symptoms of both are shortness of breath and coughing.

Hypersensitive airways

Asthmatic airways are hypersensitive. This makes them “spasm” when you’re exposed to your asthma triggers. It also caused increased mucus production. Together these obstruct airways. This is what triggers asthma flare-ups. This is what causes shortness of breath and coughing due to asthma. These episodes are both treated and controlled with asthma medicine.

Infections

Bronchiectasis causes airways to become prone to infections. Repeated infections make airway inflammation worse. Mucus can become thick and obstruct airways. This is what triggers bronchiectasis flare-ups. This is what causes shortness of breath and coughing due to bronchiectasis. These episodes will not respond to asthma medicine. Treatment usually entails antibiotics and other treatments.1

Sputum

Unlike asthma, bronchiectasis sputum tends to be colorful. It may be yellow, green, or even bloody. It may also have a strong odor to it. It tends to be difficult to spit up. And when it is spit up it may often be chunky. Bronchiectasis may also present with fatigue, fever, chills, weight loss, and night sweats.1,3

Progression

Asthma is generally not a progressive disease. But, sometimes bronchiectasis progresses. This is most likely due to repeated and severe lung infections. These infections may further damage lung tissues and reduce lung function. Still, this progression can be slowed, and maybe even prevented, with a proper diagnosis and treatment.1,3

Getting a proper diagnosis is important

Differential diagnosis

This is when your doctor attempts to rule out (or in) other potential causes to your symptoms. For instance, if you have bronchiectasis and are diagnosed with asthma instead, your symptoms may not go away. In such cases you may be diagnosed with severe asthma. So, sometimes doctors may want to rule out bronchiectasis. If you do have bronchiectasis, your treatment will be completely different than how asthma is treated.

Cystic fibrosis (CF)

This is another disease that may cause symptoms similar to asthma. CF is a disease that causes bronchiectasis. Your doctor can perform simple tests to diagnose CF. Some people with CF also have asthma. So, they may respond to asthma medicines. But, CF may also affect other organs. So, most of these patients need other medicines to gain control of their symptoms.2,4

Allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA)

This is a rare subgroup of asthma. Research suggests that only 2% of asthmatics have this. It’s asthma that is caused by a rare hypersensitivity to a fungus called Aspergillosis. This may lead to severe lung infections that may cause bronchiectasis to develop. So, if you have asthma not responsive to traditional asthma treatment, this is another thing for your doctor to consider.2

Talk to your doctor about bronchiectasis

Please don’t diagnose yourself with bronchiectasis. This is never a good idea, and may cause quite a bit of stress. Still, it’s important for doctors to be aware of the similarities and differences between bronchiectasis and asthma. It’s important because gaining control of your symptoms begins by getting to that proper diagnosis.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. American Lung Association. Learn about bronchiectasis. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-and-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/bronchiectasis/learn-about-bronchiectasis.html. Accessed 6/22/2019
  2. Redondo M, Keyt H, Dhar R, Chalmers JD. Global impact of bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis. Breathe. 2016;12(3):222-235. doi: 10.1183/20734735.007516.
  3. American Thoracic Society. What is bronchiectasis. https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/bronchiectasis-pt1.pdf. Accessed 6/22/19
  4. Weinberger SE, Cockrill BA, Mandel J. Principles Of Pulmonary Medicine, 6th Edition, 2014, Elsevier, 115-119.

Comments

  • Shellzoo
    4 months ago

    I am so grateful this is not a problem I have. It sounds awful. The mucous I cough up is frothy white or clear and while I get sinusitis frequently enough, I don’t think I have ever had bronchitis. Nice informative article and I am sure it will be helpful for others.

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    4 months ago

    Thanks. Shellzoo. I’m glad you don’t have it either. All the best. John. Site Moderator.

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