Unfortunately, no treatment is available yet to fix faulty airway cilia. (Cilia are tiny, hair-like structures that line the airways.) Thus, treatment for primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) focuses on which symptoms and complications you have.
The main goals of treating PCD are to:
- Control and treat lung, sinus, and ear infections
- Remove trapped mucus from the lungs and airways
Many doctors may help care for someone who has PCD. For example, a neonatologist may suspect PCD or another lung disorder if a newborn has breathing problems at birth. A neonatologist is a doctor who specializes in treating newborns.
A pediatrician may suspect PCD if a child has chronic (ongoing) sinus, ear, and/or lung infections. A pediatrician is a doctor who specializes in treating children. This type of doctor provides children with ongoing care from an early age and treats conditions such as ear infections and breathing problems.
An otolaryngologist also may help diagnose and treat PCD. This type of doctor treats ear, nose, and throat disorders and also is called an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. If a child has chronic sinus or ear infections, an ENT specialist may be involved in the child's care.
A pulmonologist may help diagnose or treat lung problems related to PCD. This type of doctor specializes in diagnosing and treating lung diseases and conditions. Most people who have PCD have lung problems at some point in their lives.
A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in identifying diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope. This type of doctor may help diagnose PCD by looking at cilia under a microscope.
A pathologist also may look at mucus samples to see what types of bacteria are causing infections. This information can help your doctor decide which treatments to prescribe.
Treatments for Breathing and Lung Problems
Standard treatments for breathing and lung problems in people who have PCD are chest physical therapy (CPT), exercise, and medicines.
One of the main goals of these treatments is to get you to cough. Coughing clears mucus from the airways, which is important for people who have PCD. For this reason, your doctor also may advise you to avoid medicines that suppress coughing.
Chest Physical Therapy
CPT also is called chest clapping or percussion. It involves pounding your chest and back over and over with your hands or a device to loosen the mucus from your lungs so that you can cough it up.
You might sit down or lie on your stomach with your head down while you do CPT. Gravity and force help drain the mucus from your lungs.
Some people find CPT hard or uncomfortable to do. Several devices have been made to help with CPT, such as:
- An electric chest clapper, known as a mechanical percussor.
- An inflatable therapy vest that uses high-frequency airwaves. The airwaves force the mucus that's deep in your lungs toward your upper airways so you can cough it up.
- A small hand-held device that you breathe out through. The device causes vibrations that dislodge the mucus.
- A mask that creates vibrations to help break the mucus loose from your airway walls.
Breathing techniques also may help dislodge mucus so you can cough it up. These techniques include forcing out a couple of short breaths or deeper breaths and then doing relaxed breathing. This may help loosen the mucus in your lungs and open your airways.
Aerobic exercise that makes you breathe harder helps loosen the mucus in your airways so you can cough it up. Exercise also helps improve your overall physical condition.
Talk with your doctor about what types and amounts of exercise are safe for you or your child.
If you have PCD, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, bronchodilators, or anti-inflammatory medicines. These medicines help treat lung infections, open up the airways, and reduce swelling.
Antibiotics are the main treatment to prevent or treat lung infections. Your doctor may prescribe oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
Oral antibiotics often are used to treat mild lung infections. For severe or hard-to-treat infections, you may be given IV antibiotics through a tube inserted into a vein.
To help decide which antibiotics you need, your doctor may send mucus samples to a pathologist. The pathologist will try to find out which bacteria are causing the infection.
Bronchodilators help open the airways by relaxing the muscles around them. You inhale these medicines. Often, they're taken just before CPT to help clear mucus from your lungs. You also may take bronchodilators before inhaling other medicines into your lungs.
Anti-inflammatory medicines can help reduce swelling in your airways that's caused by ongoing infections. These medicines may be inhaled or oral.
Treatments for Sinus and Ear Infections
To treat infections, your doctor may recommend saline nasal washes and anti-inflammatory nasal spray. If these treatments aren't enough, you may need medicines, such as antibiotics. If antibiotics don't work, surgery may be an option.
Tympanostomy (tim-pan-OS-toe-me) is a procedure in which small tubes are inserted into the eardrums to help drain mucus from the ears. This procedure may help children who have hearing problems caused by PCD.
Nasal or sinus surgery may help drain the sinuses and provide short-term relief of symptoms. However, the long-term benefits of this treatment are unclear.
Treatments for Advanced Lung Disease
People who have PCD may develop a serious lung condition called bronchiectasis. This condition often is treated with medicines, hydration (drinking plenty of fluids), and CPT.
If bronchiectasis severely affects part of your lung, surgery may be used to remove that area of lung.
In very rare cases, if other treatments haven't worked, lung transplant may be an option for severe lung disease. A lung transplant is surgery to remove a person's diseased lung and replace it with a healthy lung from a deceased donor.