Treating bronchiectasis

Currently, there is no cure for bronchiectasis and damage to the airways cannot be reversed. However, treatment can help to prevent further damage, reduce infections and improve symptoms.

How is bronchiectasis treated?

Finding and treating underlying causes

If the cause of your bronchiectasis is found, targeted treatment can help to control your symptoms and reduce further damage to your lungs.

Airway clearance techniques and exercises

It is very important to clear as much mucus as you can from your airways. Your doctor may refer you to a respiratory (chest) physiotherapist who will show you how to use airway clearance techniques. Once you have been shown these techniques you should do them regularly yourself to prevent the mucus building up in your airways and to reduce your risk of getting a chest infection.

If you are finding it difficult to clear your chest and have not seen a respiratory physiotherapist, ask your doctor about a referral.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a structured programme of physical activity and education specifically designed for people with long-term chest conditions. It is designed to improve your level of fitness and quality of life and can help you manage the symptoms of breathlessness, cough and tiredness on a day to day basis. If you are having difficulty with daily tasks because of your condition you should be referred for pulmonary rehabilitation. 

Treatment to open up the airways

For some people with bronchiectasis, especially those who get very breathless, using an inhaler to open up your airways can help to improve your symptoms.

Managing a chest infection

Every now and again you may notice your symptoms getting worse over a couple of days. This is often referred to as a flare-up or an exacerbation and is usually due to a chest infection. It is important that a chest infection is treated as quickly as possible to prevent further damage to your airways.

Contact your GP as soon as possible if you notice any of the following changes:

  • Increased coughing
  • Increased amount or thickness of sputum
  • Darker sputum, usually yellow or green
  • Blood in your sputum
  • Increased breathlessness
  • Fever, aches or pains
  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Increased tiredness

If your GP thinks you have a chest infection, he or she will take a sputum sample and prescribe you a course of antibiotics. Some people may have already been given a course of antibiotics to keep at home which you should start to take if you notice your symptoms getting worse.

Other things that you can do to help manage a flare-up of symptoms include:

  • Increasing the use of your bronchodilator inhaler (if you have one) to help control your symptoms
  • Using your airway clearance techniques more often to clear extra mucus from your airways
  • Resting more if you feel tired
  • Making sure you drink plenty of fluids
For more information on treatment for bronchiectasis and what to do if you have a flare-up, see the CHSS booklet Living with Bronchiectasis (PDF).