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Bronchiectasis: A respiratory condition you can’t ignore

COVID-19 has an extremely high infection rate and we have all had to take necessary precautions to safeguard ourselves against the virus. Those with chronic respiratory conditions, like asthma, cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis are particularly at risk given that they have weakened or compromised lungs or airways, which makes breathing difficult. Bloom Financial Services, along with their partner, Momentum Health4Me, shed more light on bronchiectasis, which is a serious respiratory condition that requires chronic medication. Find out more about this disease as early detection is paramount in preventing permanent and lasting lung damage.

What is bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a chronic condition that affects the lungs. The disease damages the airways, which inhibits normal dilation and causes an abnormal widening of the major 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.

Causes of bronchiectasis

There are generally two categories of causes. The first is having 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. The other category of bronchiectasis is non-CF related and can include any of the following:

  • Respiratory infections, like pneumonia or TB
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis 
  • Allergic lung inflammation (known as allergic aspergillosis)
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Risk factors

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 whooping cough (pertussis)
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
  • Any medical condition related to the cilia, which clears mucus from the bronchi
  • Rheumatic diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lung damage, like inhaling noxious gas (coal dust for example)
  • Chronic pulmonary aspiration, which is when you inadvertently inhale food or liquid into your lungs

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
  • 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 respiratory infections, like pneumonia

We strong advise visiting a doctor should you experience a combination of these symptoms.

Diagnosis and treatment

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 a culture and smear of sputum and a full blood count to measure 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. 

While there is no cure for bronchiectasis, there is treatment for the condition and the disease can be managed. The aim of the treatment plan 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 
  • Antibiotics
  • Breathing exercises to help clear the airways 
  • Taking medication to thin the mucus
  • Taking bronchodilators to open up the airways 
  • Taking expectorants to help in expelling the mucus
  • Using an inhaler 
  • Using oxygen therapy
  • Vaccinations, to prevent flu or pneumonia
  • Surgery, in severe cases patients undergo a lung transplant

Can bronchiectasis be prevented?

While it’s difficult to prevent this condition, there are some things you can do to decrease your risk of developing the disease. 

  • 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.

Will health insurance cover a specialist visit?

Yes, the Momentum Health4Me Gold plan will cover you for a specialist visit, limited to R1,000 per visit and up to two visits per year per member. Should you be diagnosed with bronchiectasis, the Gold medical insurance will also cover your chronic medication needs under chronic benefits. Momentum Health4Me will cover the cost of your chronic medication provided that it has been approved and prescribed by a network GP from the list of 26 chronic conditions. Once you’ve received a diagnosis from one of the Momentum CareCross Network doctors, you can fax or email your prescription through to a Medipost Pharmacy and let them know where to deliver this to. You can fax through to 0866 82 33 17 and email to mhealth@medipost.co.za

Affordable health insurance when you need it

Bloom Financial Services 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 medical insurance cover. Our team of trained consultants can guide you on the right path and help you compare medical insurance plans, or even help you understand the difference between health insurance and medical aid.

Contact our offices for medical insurance quotes you can trust.

Medical Content Disclaimer

You understand and acknowledge that all users of the Bloom Financial Services website are responsible for their own medical care, treatment, and oversight. All content provided on the website, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Neither is it intended to be a substitute for an independent professional medical opinion, judgement, diagnosis or treatment.