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What is bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a condition in which the airways of the lungs begin to swell. It is often caused by irritation of the airways that keeps coming back. Sometimes it begins in childhood after having a severe lung infection or inhaling a foreign object.

In bronchiectasis, your airways slowly lose their ability to clear out mucus. When mucus can’t be cleared, it builds up and creates an environment in which bacteria can grow. This leads to repeated, serious lung infections.

Each infection causes more damage to your airways. Over time, the airways lose their ability to move air in and out. This can prevent enough oxygen from reaching your vital organs.

Bronchiectasis can lead to serious health problems, such as respiratory failure, atelectasis and heart failure.


Bronchiectasis symptoms include:

  • Bad breath
  • Bloody or thick mucus
  • Repeated cough
  • Shortness of breath


Cystic fibrosis causes about a third of all bronchiectasis cases in the United States. Certain genetic conditions such as ciliary dyskinesia and immunodeficiency syndromes can also cause bronchiectasis. These conditions include primary ciliary dyskinesia.
The condition can also occur when people habitually breathe in food particles while eating.