The most common symptom of bronchiectasis is a persistent cough that brings up a large amount of phlegm on a daily basis.
The phlegm can be clear, pale yellow or yellow-greenish in colour. Some people may only occasionally cough up small amounts of phlegm, or none at all.
Other symptoms may include:
- shortness of breath
- coughing up blood or bloodstained phlegm
- chest pain
- joint pain
- clubbing of the fingertips – the tissue beneath the nail thickens and the fingertips become rounded and bulbous
Signs of a lung infection
If you develop a lung infection, your symptoms usually get worse within a few days. This is known as an infective exacerbation.
It can cause:
- coughing up even more phlegm, which may be more green than usual or smell unpleasant
- worsening shortness of breath
You may also:
- feel very tired
- cough up blood, if you have not already done so
- experience a sharp chest pain that's made worse when breathing (pleurisy)
- feel generally unwell
When to seek medical advice
If you have not previously been diagnosed with bronchiectasis and you develop a persistent cough, visit a GP for advice.
While persistent coughing may not necessarily be the result of bronchiectasis, it needs further investigation.
If you have been diagnosed with bronchiectasis previously and begin to experience symptoms that suggest you have a lung infection, contact a GP.
You'll usually need treatment with antibiotics.
Some people with bronchiectasis are given a stock of antibiotics as a precaution in case they suddenly develop a lung infection.
When to seek immediate medical advice
Some people with bronchiectasis develop a severe lung infection that may need to be treated in hospital.
Signs and symptoms of a serious lung infection include:
- a blueish tinge to the skin or lips (cyanosis)
- a high temperature
- rapid breathing (more than 25 breaths a minute)
- severe chest pain that makes it too painful to cough and clear your lungs
If you experience any of the above, phone the healthcare professional in charge of your care immediately.
This may be a GP, a doctor who specialises in lung conditions (pulmonologist), or a specialist nurse.
Page last reviewed: 1 August 2019
Next review due: 1 August 2019