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What is bronchiectasis? — Bronchiectasis is a lung condition that causes a long-lasting cough, and sometimes shortness of breath and other symptoms. In people with this condition, the airways (the branching tubes that carry air within the lungs) are wider than normal (figure 1). This leads to an increase in mucus, which can be hard to cough up. When mucus stays in the lungs, people are more likely to get lung infections.
The most common causes of bronchiectasis in children include:
●Cystic fibrosis – This is a disease that some children are born with. It makes thick mucus build up and clog the lungs and other parts of the body (figure 2).
●Other diseases that a child is born with – These include lung problems or diseases that make it hard to fight infections.
●A piece of food or another object stuck in the airway
●A long-lasting lung infection, such as certain types of bronchitis or pneumonia
What are the symptoms of bronchiectasis in children? — The most common symptoms are:
●Long-lasting cough – The cough usually brings up thick, sticky mucus and sounds "wet." It can last weeks or even months.
●Having pneumonia or other lung infections often – Your child might have:
•Chest pain that gets worse when they take a breath
•Trouble breathing or breathing that sounds like whistling (wheezing)
A child with bronchiectasis might also:
●Get tired or short of breath during exercise or play
●Have sinus infections – The sinuses are hollow areas in the bones of the face (figure 3). Sinus infections can cause a stuffy nose, pain in the cheeks or forehead, and yellow or green mucus coming from the nose.
●Cough up blood, or have skin or lips that look blue – These symptoms are not common, but do happen in a few children with bronchiectasis.
Should my child see a doctor or nurse? — Yes. Call a doctor or nurse if your child:
●Has a cough for more than 2 weeks
●Has a cough that lasts for several days or weeks and started after choking on food or another object
●Coughs up thick, dark yellow or green mucus, or thick, sticky mucus every day
●Coughs up blood
●Has trouble breathing (figure 4)
●Has a fever
Will my child need tests? — Maybe. The doctor or nurse will do an exam and learn about your child's symptoms. Your child might have some or all of these tests:
●CT scan – A CT scan is an imaging test that creates pictures of the inside of the body. It can show a detailed picture of the lungs and airways. A CT scan shows if a person has bronchiectasis, and which parts of the lungs are affected.
●"Sweat test" – During this test, a doctor collects a small amount of sweat from a person's arm and measures the amount of salt in it. This is a test for cystic fibrosis.
●Blood tests – These are done to look for cystic fibrosis, problems with the body's infection-fighting system (the "immune system"), and other problems.
●"Bronchoscopy" – During this test, a doctor uses a thin tube called a "bronchoscope" to look at the airways inside the lungs. It can be done to help find an object stuck in the airway or take samples of mucus from the lungs.
●Tests to learn how well your child's lungs are working – These are called "pulmonary function tests."
●Tests to check for swallowing problems
How is bronchiectasis in children treated? — Treatments can include:
●Removing anything that is stuck in the airway
●Medicines – These can include:
•Antibiotic medicines to help treat or prevent infections
•Medicines to thin mucus or moisten the airways (for children with cystic fibrosis)
•Medicines to help open up the airways or reduce inflammation
●Airway clearance therapy – This is a way to loosen the mucus in the lungs so that your child can cough it up more easily. It is sometimes called "chest physiotherapy." Your child's doctor, nurse, or therapist can show you different ways to do this.
Is there anything I can do to help my child? — Yes. You can:
●Keep your home and car smoke-free, and keep your child away from smoke in other places.
●Make sure that your child gets all of their vaccines, including the pneumonia and flu vaccines.
●Get treatment right away if your child gets an infection. This can help prevent worse problems.
●Help your child get the nutrients that they need. This can help the lungs work better.
Patient education: Aspiration pneumonia (The Basics)
Patient education: Cough in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Coughing up blood (The Basics)
Patient education: Cystic fibrosis (The Basics)
Patient education: Secondhand smoke and children (The Basics)
Patient education: Diagnostic bronchoscopy (The Basics)
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