What is Bronchiectasis
Bronchiectasis is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease diagnosed by the permanent widening and overall damage of the bronchial tubes.
As air enters the lungs, it passes through several branches known as the bronchi. From there, the air passes into tiny air sacs (alveoli) where the oxygen is swapped for carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. It is crucial for optimum lung performance that the bronchi stay moist, so tiny glands in the lining of the bronchi produce mucus.
Mucus also traps dirt and dust that travel in with the inhaled air. The cilia (tiny hairs) along the surface of the bronchi act like brooms to sweep the mucus (and the dust and dirt and other particles the mucus has collected) to the back of the throat where it is either swallowed or coughed up. This keeps the airways clear.
Over the course of bronchiectasis, the cilia become damaged and are no longer able to sweep the mucus away. As the mucus builds up, the bronchi are stretched and can form little pockets where germs, dust, and mucus can collect and sit. If the germs, dust, and mucus sit there long enough, the airways become infected and, since the cilia are damaged, the infections can return.
As the airways become stretched, they are also unable to complete the oxygen/carbon dioxide swap with the bloodstream, which can affect the health of other organs.
Causes and Symptoms of Bronchiectasis
There are two forms of bronchiectasis. Congenital bronchiectasis is present at birth and usually only affects infants and children. In this case, the bronchial tree has not developed properly.
Acquired bronchiectasis is the most common form and usually affects adults and older children.
There are several risk factors that can make some people more prone to developing bronchiectasis than others. They include (from www.copd-international.com):
- Chronic lung diseases: Cystic Fibrosis (CF accounts for up to 50 per cent of all bronchiectasis cases); Tuberculosis; Allergic Aspergillosis; Young Syndrome (considered a genetic variant of CF); Kartagener's Syndrome; Alpha 1-antritrypsin deficiency