Management of bronchiectasis in adults

Med J Aust. 2018 Aug 20;209(4):177-183. doi: 10.5694/mja17.01195.


Once neglected in research and underappreciated in practice, there is renewed interest in bronchiectasis unrelated to cystic fibrosis. Bronchiectasis is a chronic lung disease characterised by chronic cough, sputum production and recurrent pulmonary exacerbations. It is diagnosed radiologically on high resolution computed tomography chest scan by bronchial dilatation (wider than the accompanying artery). The causes of bronchiectasis are diverse and include previous respiratory tract infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, immunodeficiency and connective tissue diseases. A large proportion of cases are idiopathic, reflecting our incomplete understanding of disease pathogenesis. Progress in the evidence base is reflected in the 2017 European management guidelines and the 2015 update to the Australian guidelines. Effective airway clearance remains the cornerstone of bronchiectasis management. This should be personalised and reviewed regularly by a respiratory physiotherapist. There is now robust evidence for the long term use of oral macrolide antibiotics in selected patients to reduce exacerbation frequency. The routine use of long term inhaled corticosteroids and/or long-acting bronchodilators should be avoided, unless concomitant chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma exists. The evidence for nebulised agents including hypertonic saline, mannitol and antibiotics is evolving; however, access is challenging outside tertiary clinics, and nebulising equipment is required. Smokers should be supported to quit. All patients should receive influenza and pneumococcal vaccination. Patients with impaired exercise capacity should attend pulmonary rehabilitation. There is an important minority of patients for whom aetiology-specific treatment exists. The prevalence of bronchiectasis is increasing worldwide; however, the burden of disease within Australia is not well defined. To this end, the Australian Bronchiectasis Registry began recruitment in 2016 and is interoperable with the European and United States bronchiectasis registries to enable collaborative research. The recent addition of a bronchiectasis diagnosis-related group to the Australian Refined Diagnostic Related Group classification system will allow definition of the disease burden within the Australian hospital system.

Keywords: Bronchial diseases; Respiratory tract infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adult
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Australia
  • Bronchiectasis* / diagnosis
  • Bronchiectasis* / drug therapy
  • Bronchiectasis* / physiopathology
  • Humans


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents