Treatment of Bronchiectasis

Antibiotics, Bronchodilators, Expectorants, and More

Bronchiectasis (a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD) is a result of an abnormal widening of the airways caused by inflammation and infection. When the airways become enlarged, mucus pools in them, causing airway obstruction and the accumulation of bacteria. As mucus and subsequent bacteria accumulate, repeated cycles of inflammation, infection, and airway obstruction occur.

The goal of bronchiectasis treatment is to control lung infections, promote the drainage of excessive secretions, and prevent complications. In fact, the chance of bronchiectasis developing decreases with the immediate treatment of lung infections. Treatment may include any of the following methods.


Used to treat many different types of bacterial infections, antibiotics are commonly used to treat lung infections that are associated with bronchiectasis. These must be prescribed by your doctor. Antibiotics can be given orally (by mouth) or intravenously (through a vein). To avoid antibiotic resistance, be sure to take the entire course of antibiotics—even if you feel better. Antibiotics can sometimes cause irritating side effects, such as gastrointestinal issues, so read up on ways that you can minimize these types of reactions (like by taking probiotics and drinking ginger tea and milk thistle).


How to use an inhaler
How to Use a Bronchodilator Inhaler. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

A bronchodilator is a common medication that's used in the treatment of bronchiectasis. Bronchodilators work by relaxing and expanding the airways, making it easier to breathe. Common bronchodilator medications include albuterol and Atrovent (these are medications that are also sometimes used to treat asthma).


Robitussin. Photo courtesy of Getty Images, user Scott Olson

Expectorants are over-the-counter medications that can help loosen mucus, making it easier for it to be expelled from the airways through coughing. In other words, it makes coughs more efficient. Common brand-name expectorants are Robitussin and Mucinex. They can be found at your local drugstore. The active ingredient in those drugs is called guaifenesin. They often come in either a liquid/syrup form or in tablet form.

Avoiding Respiratory Irritants

Air Pollution: One of the Causes of COPD.

Respiratory irritants can exacerbate symptoms of bronchiectasis. Quitting smoking, and avoiding secondhand smoke and air pollution are three steps that you can take to help prevent bronchiectasis. Learn more about how to quit smoking (and make it stick). There are many quit aids that you can try if you're not ready to go cold turkey. To ingest less air pollution, try exercising in parks as opposed to, say, running on a sidewalk next to a busy road—or, if you must work out near a busy street, try to do so before or after rush hour.

Annual Flu Shot

Flu Shots
Now This Won't Hurt a Bit!. Photo c, user foreversouls

Flu shots not only help prevent the flu, but they can also help prevent the exacerbation of bronchiectasis. Ask your healthcare provider what you can do about getting your annual flu shot. Often, local drug stores will offer a flu vaccine in the fall and winter months. 

Chest Physiotherapy: Postural Drainage

Postural Drainage of the Lower Lobes Superior Segments
Postural Drainage of the Lower Lobes Superior Segments. Artwork © Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

Postural drainage is an airway clearance technique that uses gravity to help drain mucus from certain parts of the lungs. Postural drainage may be used with other forms of chest physiotherapy to further loosen secretions so that they can be expelled from the airways easier.

Chest Physiotherapy: Percussion and Vibration

Hand Position for Chest Percussion
Hand Position for Chest Percussion. Artwork © Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

Along with postural drainage, percussion and vibration help further mobilize and loosen secretions, making it easier for them to be expelled from the airways. Percussion and vibration can be performed either by using your hands or by using a manual percussive device.

Surgical Lung Resection

For those who do not respond well to other types of conservative treatment, and if bronchiectasis is confined to a specific portion of the lungs, surgical removal of that part of the lung may be an option. It is important to note, however, that surgical resection of the lung is not for everyone. Talk with your doctor for more information to see if this type of treatment is right for you.

Was this page helpful?