If you or your child has a wet cough that just won’t go away, it could lead to bronchiectasis. Bronchiectasis is a type of permanent lung scarring which happens when you have ongoing infection in your lungs.


Bronchiectasis isn’t catching – you can’t catch it from someone else, or give it to others.

Bronchiectasis happens when the breathing tubes (called bronchi) in the lungs have been damaged and enlarged – usually due to infection. This causes mucus to build up in the extra space.

The mucus usually gets cleared up by tiny hairs (called cilia) that line the breathing tubes. But if these hairs stop working properly then mucus gets stuck in the breathing tubes.

Germs grow in this extra mucus and cause more infection. These infections damage and scar the breathing tubes and lungs. The breathing tubes become baggy and holes form in the lungs. Once this has happened, the scarring and damage can’t be fixed.

Related websites

Developed by the Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand.

Asthma Foundation
Information and support for asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Health Navigator
The Health Navigator NZ website helps you find reliable and trustworthy health information and self-help resources.


If you have bronchiectasis, you’ll feel well most of the time. The main symptom is the wet cough that won’t go away. This cough produces a build-up of phlegm or mucus which may be yellow or green in colour and smelly. These are signs of infection.

If you or your child has these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention. That cough means there are problems in the lung. If you ignore it:

  • you’ll develop more and more lung scarring – which is permanent
  • you’re likely to get repeated infections in the future.


There are some things you can do to help prevent bronchiectasis in children. These include:

  • not smoking during pregnancy
  • breastfeeding your children
  • eating a healthy balanced diet
  • early detection and treatment of chest infections
  • making sure your home is warm and dry – this means they’re less likely to get chest infections
  • immunisation, so they don’t get diseases like measles and whooping cough which can lead to bronchiectasis.

Living with

In most cases bronchiectasis is permanent. Your GP or health professional will help you work out a plan for managing the disease, so that it doesn’t get worse or cause more damage. This will include:

  • physiotherapy
  • medication to help airflow in the lungs
  • antibiotics to treat infection
  • regular exercise.

If you have bronchiectasis, you’ll be able to get a free flu shot every year. Your doctor may also recommend vaccination against pneumococcal disease every 5–6 years.

If your child has bronchiectasis

An easy way to help to manage your child’s bronchiectasis is to get them more active. Exercising outside, running around, on the trampoline – anything that makes them huff and puff. When they’re huffing and puffing they’re getting air circulating all the way down to the bottom of their lungs and that helps to shift the mucus.

Other things that are really good to help with managing bronchiectasis are to keep your home smokefree – so keep your children smokefree, and if you have family or whānau who smoke tell them to take it outside.

The Kidshealth website has lots of information to help if your child has bronchiectasis.

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