The early airway damage that leads to bronchiectasis often begins in childhood. However, symptoms may not appear until months or even years after repeated lung infections.
Repeated lung infections create a cycle of lung damage and flare-ups. These infections lead to and buildup in the lungs. Although treatments can help clear the mucus, the inflammation creates new lung damage that makes a later infection more likely. The later infection then starts the cycle again. Healthcare providers often use the term to describe these flare-ups from infection. Your provider may diagnose an exacerbation if you have been experiencing certain symptoms for at least 48 hours.
The most common symptoms of bronchiectasis include:
- A daily cough that occurs over at least 8 weeks
- Daily production of large amounts of sputum (a mix of saliva and fluid from the lungs) that is coughed up and may have mucus, trapped particles, and pus
- Shortness of breath and wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe) that gets worse during flare-ups
- Chest pain
- Fevers and/or chills when accompanied by chronic inflammation and infection
- (thickened skin under your fingernails and toenails that causes the nails to curve downward)
Your provider may also hear abnormal sounds, such as loud wheezes or whistling noises, when listening to your lungs.
Over time, you may develop more serious symptoms. You may cough up blood or bloody mucus and feel very tired. Children may lose weight or grow more slowly.