How is bronchiectasis treated?
Bronchiectasis often is treated with medicines, hydration, and chest physical therapy (CPT). Your doctor may recommend surgery if the bronchiectasis is isolated to a section of lung, or you have a lot of bleeding.
If the bronchiectasis is widespread and causing respiratory failure, your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy.
The goals of treatment are to:
- Treat any underlying conditions and lung infections
- Remove mucus (a slimy substance) from your lungs
- Prevent complications
Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of bronchiectasis may help prevent further lung damage.
Antibiotics are the main treatment for the repeated lung infections that bronchiectasis causes. Oral antibiotics often are used to treat these infections.
For hard-to-treat infections, your doctor may prescribe intravenous (IV) antibiotics. These medicines are given through an IV line inserted into your arm. Your doctor may help you arrange for a home care provider to give you IV antibiotics at home.
Expectorants and mucus-thinning medicines
Your doctor may prescribe expectorants and mucus thinners to help you cough up mucus.
Expectorants help loosen the mucus in your lungs. They often are combined with decongestants, which may provide extra relief. Mucus thinners, such as acetylcysteine, loosen the mucus to make it easier to cough up.
Your doctor may prescribe other medicines, depending on your symptoms or other conditions you may have.
- Bronchodilators relax the muscles around your airways. This helps open your airways and makes breathing easier. Most bronchodilators are inhaled medicines. You will use an inhaler or a nebulizer to breathe in a fine mist of medicine. Inhaled bronchodilators work quickly because the medicine goes straight to your lungs. Your doctor may recommend that you use a bronchodilator right before you do CPT.
- Inhaled corticosteroids treat inflammation in the airways. Your doctor may prescribe these if you also have wheezing or asthma with your bronchiectasis.
Drinking plenty of fluid, especially water, helps prevent airway mucus from becoming thick and sticky. Good hydration helps keep airway mucus moist and slippery and easier to cough up.
Chest physical therapy
CPT is also known as physiotherapy, chest clapping, and percussion. This technique is generally performed by a respiratory therapist but can be done by a trained member of the family. It involves the therapist patting or gently pounding your chest and back repeatedly with their hands or a device. Doing this helps loosen the mucus from your lungs so you can cough it up.
You can sit with your head tilted 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 who perform CPT find it hard or uncomfortable to do. Several devices can help with CPT, such as:
- An electric chest clapper, known as a mechanical percussor
- An inflatable therapy vest that uses high-frequency air waves to force mucus toward your upper airways so you can cough it up
- A small handheld device that you breathe out through, which causes vibrations that dislodge the mucus
- A mask that creates vibrations to help break loose mucus from your airway walls
Several breathing techniques are also used to help move mucus to the upper airway so it can be coughed up. These techniques include forced expiration technique (FET) and active cycle breathing (ACB).
FET involves forcing out a couple of breaths and then doing relaxed breathing. ACB is FET that involves deep breathing exercises.
Oxygen therapy is a treatment that delivers oxygen for you to breathe. You can receive oxygen therapy from tubes resting in your nose, a face mask, or a tube placed in your trachea (windpipe). You may need oxygen therapy if you have a condition that causes your blood oxygen levels to be too low.
Oxygen therapy can be given for a short or long period of time in the hospital, in another medical setting, or at home. Oxygen poses a fire risk, so you should never smoke or use flammable materials when using oxygen. You may experience side effects from this treatment, such as a dry or bloody nose, tiredness, and morning headaches. Oxygen therapy is generally safe.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if no other treatments have helped and only one part of your airway is affected. If you have major bleeding in your airway, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove part of your airway or a procedure to control the bleeding.
In very rare instances of severe bronchiectasis, your doctor may recommend that you receive a lung transplant replacing your diseased lungs with a healthy set of lungs.