Respiratory illnesses are quite common. Conditions like emphysema, asthma and bronchitis are well-known. However, there is a condition less commonly discussed than the other high-profile respiratory counterparts. Bronchiectasis causes irreversible damage to the bronchial tubes, which gradually erodes the quality of life for those who are diagnosed with this condition. Join Bloom, along with their trusted medical partner, Momentum Health4Me, as they explore bronchiectasis, in more detail. Discover more about this disease as early detection prevents permanent and lasting lung damage.
What is bronchiectasis?
Bronchiectasis is a chronic respiratory or lung disease that damages the body’s airways. This inhibits normal dilation and causes an abnormal widening of the central airways of the lungs. The result is the thickening of the bronchi walls and subsequent tissue damage. The dilated airways lead to the build-up of mucus, which becomes difficult to drain and causes a vicious cycle of inflammation and frequent infections. Over time, this creates irregular airway pockets and loss of lung function altogether.
Bronchiectasis is different from asthma, which is an inflammatory condition that is characterised by reversible airway narrowing, in contrast to bronchiectasis. People who suffer from asthma will experience intermittent shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.
Causes of bronchiectasis
There are two categories associated with the cause of bronchiectasis, which are cystic fibrosis-related and non-cystic fibrosis-related.
- Cystic fibrosis (CF). This is a chronic genetic condition that affects the lungs and digestive system. It’s characterised by the production of thick mucus that clogs the lungs and obstructs the pancreas.
- Non-CF related. The other category of causes is non-CF related and can include any of the following:
- Respiratory infections. Repeated or severe infections, like pneumonia or TB, can damage the bronchial tubes, leading to the onset of bronchiectasis.
- Chronic allergies, like allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA), can contribute to inflammation and airway damage.
- Exposure to harmful pollutants, like industrial chemicals and tobacco smoke can damage your airways.
- Autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, can cause inflammation in the body, including the airways, which can contribute to the development of bronchiectasis.
- HIV/AIDS and other immune system disorders can compromise your immune system to such an extent that it will increase your risk of developing the condition.
How to diagnose bronchiectasis?
There are a number of ways to diagnose bronchiectasis. The most common is a chest x-ray, high-resolution CT scan or laboratory tests. The CT scan will show whether there is any bronchial thickening and will also pinpoint which bronchi and areas of the lung are affected. The lab tests will include sputum cultures and a full blood count to measure the severity of the infection. They may also conduct a sweat test in order to check for cystic fibrosis. Lastly, a specialist known as a pulmonologist may conduct a bronchoscopy, which is a procedure that allows the doctor to view the lungs and airways. The specialist will insert a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light on the end, through the nose or mouth into the lungs’ airways. This enables the specialist to inspect the airways, take tissue samples and perform any treatments or interventions.
Symptoms of bronchiectasis
Bronchiectasis symptoms can develop gradually over time. However, the main two symptoms are a persistent, daily cough and the production of excess mucus. Other symptoms that are typical of this condition may include:
- Constant fatigue or feeling run down
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Fever and chills
- Excessive mucus production
- Producing hemoptysis, which is mucus mixed with blood
- Unexplained weight loss
- Developing thicker skin under your toenails and fingernails, known as clubbing
- Coughing up phlegm or blood
- Recurring and frequent respiratory infections, like pneumonia
Who is at risk for developing bronchiectasis?
Some people are more at risk than others for developing bronchiectasis. The disease tends to affect older people and is more prevalent among women than men. People who have any of the following conditions or who may suffer from these incidents could find themselves more susceptible to developing bronchiectasis:
- Frequent or recurring respiratory or lung infections, like TB, pneumonia or whooping cough.
- People with cystic fibrosis as this illness leads to the production of thick mucus, which can obstruct the airways.
- Chronic lung conditions, like obstructive pulmonary disease, especially if there are frequent infections and inflammation of the lungs.
- Genetic factors. A person is more likely to develop bronchiectasis if there’s a family history of the disease.
- Exposure to harmful environmental toxins, which could cause lung damage, like inhaling noxious gas (coal dust for example).
Healthy living: prevention and treatment of bronchiectasis
There are some precautions you can take to decrease your risk of developing the disease. Some of these preventative measures include:
- Vaccinations. Make sure your children are vaccinated against whooping cough and measles as these childhood diseases have been linked to bronchiectasis.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle. Avoid unhealthy habits, like smoking and protect your lungs against harmful chemicals or polluted air.
Most importantly, recognise the signs of the condition so that you can get diagnosed early and put on an effective treatment plan that will prevent further damage to your lungs. While there is no cure for bronchiectasis, there is treatment for the condition, the aim of which is to minimise infections and to keep bronchial secretions under control. Some of the most common bronchiectasis treatments include:
- Chest physiotherapy, to help clear the lungs of mucus
- Breathing exercises to help clear the airways
- Taking medication to thin the mucus
- Taking bronchodilators to open up the airways
- Taking expectorants to help expel the mucus
- Using an inhaler
- Using oxygen therapy
- Vaccinations, to prevent flu or pneumonia
- Surgery, in severe cases patients undergo a lung transplant
Takeaway: What do we cover?
Bloom is committed to healthy living. If you have a serious chronic condition or disease, you will need specialist medical care and services. Make sure you and your family are covered for chronic benefits and get the right healthcare cover.
We have a wide portfolio of healthcare options that will suit your medical needs and budget. Choose from:
- Health Insurance. We have partnered with the respected Momentum Health4Me provider for health insurance that provides top-quality, affordable plans to people on a budget, including;
- Health4Me Gold. This is our most popular and premium, yet affordable health insurance option.
- Health4Me Silver is a balanced health insurance option that brings you high-quality and competitively priced private healthcare.
- Health4Me Bronze is our entry-level health insurance option that provides you with quality healthcare at an affordable premium.
- Medical aid. Together with our partner, Momentum, we also offer affordable medical aid solutions across three categories. Take a look at the benefits to decide which plan best suits your particular medical needs.
- Ingwe is an affordable, entry-level medical aid plan that’s perfect for first-time earners and students. You will receive hospital coverage, day-to-day and chronic illness benefits when you use the network providers.
- Custom includes cover for hospitalisation in private hospitals. The Custom option provides cover for a range of day-to-day benefits such as preventative screening tests, certain check-ups and more.
- Evolve is for digitally savvy individuals looking for affordable hospital cover and virtual GP visits, with the ability to manage their membership from their devices in the comfort of their homes.
- Gap cover. This option takes care of medical expense shortfalls. Many healthcare services charge above medical scheme rates, which means that you would need to cover the difference out-of-pocket. Let Gap Cover assist with these extra expenses. Compare:
- Gap Core is the affordable answer to extra medical expenses. It covers the gap between what your medical aid covers and what hospitals and specialists charge.
- Gap Max is the premium and comprehensive answer to unexpected medical expenses. This option covers the shortfall between what your medical aid covers and what hospitals and specialists charge, with many added benefits
Momentum Health4Me Gold health insurance and the Ingwe Medical Aid plan will cover a specialist visit, limited to R1,220 per visit (and up to R2,440 per family per year) for two visits per year per member subject to referral and pre-authorisation protocol. Should you be diagnosed with bronchiectasis, the Health4Me Gold health insurance and all three medical aid plans will also cover your chronic medication needs under chronic benefits provided that this has been approved and prescribed by a network GP. Once you’ve received a diagnosis from one of the Momentum CareCross Network doctors, you can fax or email your prescription to a Medipost Pharmacy and let them know where to deliver it. You can fax through to 0866 82 33 17 and email to email@example.com