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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Bronchiectasis?

The initial airway damage that leads to bronchiectasis often begins in childhood. However, signs and symptoms may not appear until months or even years after you start having repeated lung infections.

The most common signs and symptoms of bronchiectasis are:

  • A daily cough that occurs over months or years
  • Daily production of large amounts of sputum (spit). Sputum, which you cough up and spit out, may contain mucus (a slimy substance), trapped particles, and pus.
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Chest pain
  • Clubbing (the flesh under your fingernails and toenails gets thicker)

If your doctor listens to your lungs with a stethoscope, he or she may hear abnormal lung sounds.

Over time, you may have more serious symptoms. You may cough up blood or bloody mucus and feel very tired. Children may lose weight or not grow at a normal rate.

Complications of Bronchiectasis

Severe bronchiectasis can lead to other serious health conditions, such as respiratory failure and atelectasis.

Respiratory failure is a condition in which not enough oxygen passes from your lungs into your blood. The condition also can occur if your lungs can't properly remove carbon dioxide (a waste gas) from your blood.

Respiratory failure can cause shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and air hunger (feeling like you can't breathe in enough air). In severe cases, signs and symptoms may include a bluish color on your skin, lips, and fingernails; confusion; and sleepiness.

Atelectasis is a condition in which one or more areas of your lungs collapse or don't inflate properly. As a result, you may feel short of breath. Your heart rate and breathing rate may increase, and your skin and lips may turn blue.

If bronchiectasis is so advanced that it affects all parts of your airways, it may cause heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.

The most common signs and symptoms of heart failure are shortness of breath or trouble breathing, tiredness, and swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck.

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Last Updated: June 2, 2014