Causes and Risk Factors of Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis It can happen to people of any age, but it seems to be more common in women and people over the age of 65.Bronchiectasis is usually caused by cystic fiber (CF), a genetic disease that causes long-term infections and breathing problems in the lungs. CF is a progressive disease, which means it gets worse over time.

In at least half of the cases of bronchiectasis, no specific cause can be identified. Cases of non-CF bronchiectasis (called idiopathic bronchiectasis) are often caused by repeated infections, aspiration, and airway obstruction. Lifestyle and environmental factors may also contribute to the development of the disease.

Everything you need to know about bronchiectasis

Common causes

Infections, aspiration, and airway obstruction are common acquired conditions that may lead to bronchiectasis over time.


Damage to the airway walls is the most common cause of bronchiectasis. Lung infections are notorious for causing this type of damage. Examples of infections that cause bronchiectasis include:

  • Severe pneumonia: Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It causes the air sacs in the lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid. Pneumonia can make it harder for the oxygen you breathe into your bloodstream. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include cough, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing.
  • Whooping cough: Although rare in the United States due to vaccines, whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection. It is characterized by a violent dry cough and high-pitched breathing with a “screaming” sound.
  • Tuberculosis (TB): Tuberculosis is a potentially serious bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs. Symptoms of TB include a severe cough that lasts three weeks or more, chest pain, and coughing up blood or mucus from deep in the lungs.
  • Fungal infection: Any infection caused by a fungus. A fungal infection of the lungs can be very serious and cause symptoms similar to other diseases, including tuberculosis.

All of these infections are known to damage the airways, potentially leading to bronchiectasis.


Chronic pulmonary aspiration is the result of inhalation of oral or stomach material into the lungs. When aspiration is severe or recurring, it can cause inflammation of the airways and cause bronchiectasis. This can happen when:

READ ALSO:  Overview of Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD)

  • Oropharyngeal dysphagia: This condition affects a person’s ability to swallow, possibly causing saliva or food to enter the lungs.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when the smooth muscle valve between the esophagus and stomach does not function properly, allowing stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus. Stomach contents may enter the lungs and irritate the airways. Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or sour fluids, and a lump in the throat.

Learn what aspirations in the medical field mean

airway obstruction

Obstructed airways can trap mucus and lead to post-obstruction infections that eventually lead to airway damage, such as in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a long-term disease that causes inflammation and damage to lung tissue that narrows the airways.

Tumors can also cause airway obstruction. Inhaled objects – such as peanuts or toys – can eventually cause bronchiectasis.

risk factor

Some people have specific risk factors for developing bronchiectasis. These are usually things they don’t have much control over. These include gender, age, congenital disorders (diseases a person has had since birth), allergies and some diseases.


Although bronchiectasis develops with age, most people with this condition are women. Among children, however, the condition affects more boys than girls.

Bronchiectasis appears to affect women more severely and more frequently than men. Researchers believe this is related to increased inflammatory responses and exposure.


According to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 500,000 people in the United States have bronchiectasis, and 150 of them are 75 or older.The risk of bronchiectasis increases with age.

Research reported in the journal, Clinical Interventions for Agingfound that more than half of people with bronchiectasis were over the age of 65, with older adults tending to be worse off.Most cases of bronchiectasis are associated with serious lung infections and respiratory problems.

cystic fibrosis

In the United States, cystic fibrosis affects up to 30,000 people.This is the result of a genetic protein defect that causes the body to produce sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and leads to life-threatening lung infections and airway destruction. Bronchiectasis is associated with CF and is caused by permanent enlargement and obstruction of the airways.

READ ALSO:  How to Diagnose Chronic Bronchitis

allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis

The condition is the result of an allergic reaction to a fungus called aspergillosis. This reaction causes the airways to swell and eventually cause damage.

ciliary dysfunction

Any disease that affects ciliary function can cause damage to the airways. Cilia are small hair-like structures that line the airways. Their job is to keep the airways clear of mucus and dirt.

Primary ciliary dyskinesia is an inherited disorder of the cilia in which the cilia do not work properly and do not clean secretions effectively. Having this condition puts a person at risk for repeated infections and long-term airway damage.


People with immune deficiencies, including antibody deficiencies, are more prone to repeated infections. Immunodeficiency diseases are diseases in which the immune system is derailed and less responsive to threats. Low activity is known as immunodeficiency, and it makes it harder to fight infection.

These deficiencies can be the result of disease or drugs, or they can be present at birth, such as in a genetic disorder called primary immunodeficiency. Infections can be severe enough to damage the airways due to increased susceptibility and weakened immune status.

What does immunocompromised mean

autoimmune disease

Just like immunodeficiency diseases, autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, and Sjögren’s syndrome, can increase your risk of infection. Autoimmune diseases are diseases in which the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy cells.

Many causes and risk factors for bronchiectasis are beyond your control. Therefore, if you have any risk factors for developing it, it is important to be aware of the symptoms associated with this condition.

Lifestyle and Environmental Reasons

Other causes associated with bronchiectasis are environmental and chemical exposure and alcohol and drug abuse.


Several environmental factors may contribute to the development of bronchiectasis. For example, inhaled toxins such as ammonia or other toxic gases and liquids can damage the lungs and cause bronchiectasis.

A 2018 study by researchers from Barcelona, ​​Spain looked for links between environmental factors and hospitalizations for bronchiectasis.This observational study, conducted at two hospitals in Barcelona, ​​examined the number of hospitalizations associated with bronchiectasis between 2007 and 2015. They found that temperature, pollution and various atmospheric conditions were associated with worsening conditions.

READ ALSO:  Will COPD Affect Your Employment?

They speculate that geographic location as well as environmental factors also play a role in the development of bronchiectasis, but further research is needed to confirm their theory and findings.

alcohol abuse

Heavy drinking and drug use can damage the lungs and increase the risk of bronchiectasis. A 2017 study showed that long-term alcohol consumption may begin to damage the lungs in as little as six weeks.


Substance abuse can lead to various breathing problems as well as lung and airway damage. Some medications can slow breathing, stop air from entering the lungs, or make asthma and COPD symptoms worse, further increasing a person’s risk of developing bronchiectasis.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is bronchiectasis serious?

    It can be because it is an incurable chronic disease. About half of bronchiectasis cases are caused by cystic fibrosis, a severe, progressive respiratory disease. That said, bronchiectasis is almost always manageable, and people who develop it tend to live healthy lives and have a relatively normal lifespan.

  • Which bacteria cause bronchiectasis?

    The bacteria most commonly associated with infections that cause bronchiectasis are Streptococcus pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Others involved include Klebsiella pneumoniae, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Moraxella catarrhalis, Haemophilus influenzae, Escherichia coliand Staphylococcus aureus.

  • Why does bronchiectasis cause you to cough up blood?

    Hemoptysis is the clinical term for hemoptysis, a symptom of bronchiectasis that occurs when the capillaries in the mucosal lining of the trachea and bronchi become congested and damaged by a violent cough. The blood is usually mixed with mucus or sputum and is streaked with red or rust.

  • What is exacerbation of bronchiectasis?

    Bronchiectasis worsens or flares up when three or more of the following symptoms appear and persist for at least 48 hours:

    • severe cough
    • Increased amount and/or consistency of mucus caused by coughing
    • pus from cough
    • Breathing difficulties that may or may not occur with exercise
    • fatigue
    • hemoptysis (coughing up blood)

    An episode of bronchiectasis is usually triggered when a new upper respiratory tract infection develops or an existing infection gets worse.

Everything you need to know about bronchiectasis