Enna Stroil-Salama, Australian Bronchiectasis Registry Manager, Lung Foundation Australia
Large studies have shown that on average, bronchiectasis patients experience exacerbations (flare-ups of symptoms) once or twice a year. The number of exacerbations varies; so much so, that a quarter of all bronchiectasis patients don’t have a flare-up for a year or even more. The cause of exacerbations is not always clear, however contributing factors can include bacterial infections, respiratory viruses, air pollution, and other medical conditions. The symptoms of an exacerbation include the deterioration of three or more symptoms including cough, sputum volume and/or consistency, sputum colour or presence of blood, breathlessness or fatigue.
Similarly to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and a number of other respiratory conditions, a history of severe exacerbations seems to be the strongest predictor for exacerbations in bronchiectasis.
Early treatment of exacerbations is recommended to minimise lung damage and will depend on the severity of the exacerbation. Most often this includes increased airway clearance and antibiotic therapy as well as a personalised Action Plan for managing exacerbations, which you can develop with your doctor.
To reduce the risk of exacerbations, it is very important to:
- Continue airway clearance whilst well. This can be reviewed and optimised by a respiratory physiotherapist.
- Take medications regularly as prescribed by your health professional. This may include preventative antibiotics, which are used every day.
- Have your vaccinations for influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia.
- Stop smoking.