Bronchiectasis and Asthma: Similarities and Differences

Older man with asthma smelling the fresh air.

We’ve written many articles on the similarities and differences between COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and bronchiectasis (brong-kee-EK-tuh-sis). But another common and well-known chronic lung condition is asthma. 

Asthma affects the airways in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. It’s reported that 1 in 13 Americans are living with this condition, which can develop at any age. [1] You may be more familiar with what asthma is, but did you know that asthma shares many of the same symptoms as bronchiectasis? 

Chart of the similarities of asthma and bronchiectasisSimilarities Between Asthma and Bronchiectasis

To understand how these conditions are similar, let’s explore their common symptoms. 

Please note that everyone will experience asthma or bronchiectasis differently. For example, according to medical professionals, if asthma is well-controlled, a person may experience fewer or no symptoms at all for longer periods of time. [2]

Though it didn’t receive a checkmark on our list, asthma could trigger a respiratory infection, if left untreated and symptoms worsen (i.e., flare up). However, this chart represents the most common symptoms associated with each condition. And as stated before, when asthma is controlled, a person may not even experience any symptoms at all.

Other Notable Similarities

  • More Common in Women – Women are more prone to developing symptoms of asthma and bronchiectasis. [4]
  • Permanent Condition – There is currently no known cure for either asthma or bronchiectasis. 
  • Symptoms Can Be Triggered – Environmental and external factors—such as cold weather, air pollutants, or smoking—may trigger a worsening of symptoms for both asthma [5] and bronchiectasis. [6]
  • Symptoms Can Be Managed – Depending on your individual symptoms and health history, your doctor can prescribe an effective treatment plan to help you manage each condition and still live a healthy, active lifestyle. 

Differences Between Asthma and Bronchiectasis

Though similar in chronic symptoms, asthma and bronchiectasis affect the airways differently:

Asthma

Asthma can cause the airways to become inflamed and narrowed, impairing the body’s natural flow of oxygen. [7]

Bronchiectasis

Bronchiectasis causes the airways to become damaged and abnormally widened, affecting your lungs ability to mobilize and clear mucus. This results in recurring inflammation and infection.

Another difference is how each condition is diagnosed:

Graphic icon of lungsDiagnosing Asthma

Similar to how COPD is diagnosed, your doctor may perform a series of lung performance tests, such as a spirometry test or blood tests to help determine the causes of your symptoms. [8]

Diagnosing Bronchiectasis

There is only one way to accurately diagnose bronchiectasis and that is through a high-resolution computerized tomography (HRCT) scan. This allows your clinician to produce a 3-D rendering of your lungs to detect lung damage associated with this condition.

Lastly, your treatment may be different, depending on your individual symptoms. Though it is not uncommon for clinicians to prescribe similar treatments, such as bronchodilators to help prevent the narrowing of the airways, antibiotics to help treat infections from flare ups, or other medications that help reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Treating Asthma

Your doctor may prescribe a sequence of short-term and long-term medications to help you manage your symptoms daily or when you experience a flare up (i.e., asthma attack): “Treatment usually depends on your age, asthma severity, and response to a given treatment option. Your doctor may adjust your treatment until asthma symptoms are controlled. [9]

Woman wearing SmartVest at home.Treating Bronchiectasis

Unlike a person who may experience their asthma symptoms only when triggered by allergies, climate conditions, or pollutants, bronchiectasis requires daily management to help relieve symptoms and prevent exacerbations (i.e., worsening of symptoms).

Remember, bronchiectasis damages your lungs so that they are unable to mobilize and clear mucus. The result is mucus buildup, which could cause a respiratory infection. And with each cycle of infection, your lungs become more damaged. 

Airway clearance via high frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) therapy helps deliver repeated pulses of air that gently squeeze and release the upper chest wall. The oscillation of air helps loosen mucus build up and propel it upward, making it easier to cough out. 

The SmartVest, for example, is designed for daily therapy. Users can simply plug in their system, put on their vest, and begin therapy management at home.

See how it works button.

 

Can You Have Asthma and Bronchiectasis?

If you follow our blog, then you already know that a person can experience symptoms of both COPD and bronchiectasis. But can they have asthma and bronchiectasis at the same time, too?

The truth is, bronchiectasis can coexist with other chronic lung conditions, even asthma. [10] Because it develops from repeated lung damage caused by frequent respiratory infections, a person whose asthma goes untreated may develop symptoms of bronchiectasis, as well.

The only way to know if you are living with this comorbid condition is to have a HRCT scan. Again, this is the only way to accurately detect a prevalence of bronchiectasis in your lungs. 

It’s also important to note that if you are diagnosed with bronchiectasis, you will need a different treatment plan, as your asthma symptoms may worsen if bronchiectasis is left untreated. [11]

“I constantly was in the hospital with lung infections. Now I still do the two treatments daily as ordered by my doctor and haven’t been in the hospital in 7 years!” -Diane, SmartVest user for bronchiectasis and asthma

“I have bronchiectasis and severe persistent asthma. My SmartVest is one of the best tools that I have to get mucus out. When all my inhalers and nebulizer treatments don’t work, my SmartVest always manages to get things moved around enough that I can get it out or finally breathe for a while.” -Pam, SmartVest user for bronchiectasis and asthma

Ready to learn more about what SmartVest? Schedule a time to chat with our Patient Care Advocate!

Support & Resources for Your Chronic Lung Condition

Whether you’re living with asthma, COPD, or bronchiectasis, we invite you to subscribe to our blog to stay connected to our community. We provide helpful articles, industry news, and resources for you and loved ones to read and share with your clinicians. 

Our goal is to educate and empower you to take an active role in your lung management and treatment.


Resources:

[1] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Asthma Facts and Figures.” Retrieved from https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/ 

[2] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Asthma: Overview.” Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma

[3] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. “Asthma Facts and Figures.” Retrieved from https://www.aafa.org/asthma-facts/ 

[4] American Lung Association. “Learn About Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/bronchiectasis/learn-about-bronchiectasis

[5] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Asthma: Risk Factors.” Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma

[6] Bronchiectasis News Today. “6 Tips for Managing Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://bronchiectasisnewstoday.com/2017/02/09/six-tips-for-managing-bronchiectasis/

[7] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Asthma: Overview.” Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma

[8] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Asthma: Diagnosis.” Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma

[9] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “Asthma: Treatment.” Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma

[10] Bronchiectasis News Today. “Bronchiectasis Aggravates Asthma Outcomes, Review Study Finds.” Retrieved from https://bronchiectasisnewstoday.com/2020/09/11/bronchiectasis-aggravates-outcomes-asthma-outcomes-review-study-finds/

[11] Bronchiectasis News Today. “Bronchiectasis Aggravates Asthma Outcomes, Review Study Finds.” Retrieved from https://bronchiectasisnewstoday.com/2020/09/11/bronchiectasis-aggravates-outcomes-asthma-outcomes-review-study-finds/

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