Bronchiectasis Flare Up: What To Expect


Man holds his head while on his laptop

Flare-ups (also known as exacerbations) occur when symptoms of a chronic disease suddenly worsen. Bronchiectasis, for example, is a lung condition that triggers inflammation and infection in the airways due to mucus buildup.

Breathing lungs icon


With each onset of infection, the airways become abnormally widened, making breathing more difficult. Simultaneously, your lungs lose the ability to mobilize and clear mucus independently. And if the lungs cannot break up and remove mucus-containing bacteria and other germs, the cycle starts again.

As a result of infection, other bronchiectasis symptoms may worsen (i.e., flare-up).

What To Expect During a Flare Up

Though every person is different, a bronchiectasis flare-up may cause you to experience one or more of the following symptoms:

Excess Sputum Production

A flare up may cause you to produce thick, sticky mucus that changes color. You may hear your clinician refer to this as “sputum.”

Sputum can change in consistency, texture, and color once it accumulates bacteria or fungi in the lungs and airways. Color changes may range from yellow to green, as darker colors typically indicate signs of an infection [1].

Increased Fatigue

Fatigue is another symptom of bronchiectasis, but during a flare-up, you may find it challenging to get out of bed due to low energy and exhaustion. Fatigue can also affect your mental focus and concentration, causing you to feel disoriented [2].

Chronic Coughing

Frequent coughing is also associated with bronchiectasis, but a flare-up may cause your cough to worsen or be accompanied by excess mucus or sometimes even blood [3]. 

Fever and Chills

Fever and chills are typically common with the flu, but a bronchiectasis flare-up may cause you to develop a high temperature due to a lung infection. A high fever may also contribute to feelings of increased fatigue.

Short on Breath

Another common symptom of bronchiectasis is shortness of breath, which can worsen during a flare-up. Even if you are resting or trying to go to sleep, you may find it challenging to breathe normally or catch your breath. 

An oxygen reduction can develop into chest tightening or a feeling of suffocation [4], requiring immediate medical attention.

Treating a Bronchiectasis Flare Up

Your clinician may prescribe an algorithm of mucus-thinning medications and antibiotics [5] to help fight infection, but depending on the severity of your flare up, you may require hospitalization.

If you start to experience symptoms of a flare-up, you’ll want to speak with your clinician about the next steps for treatment, especially if you’re struggling to breathe. 

Here is where airway clearance therapy should come into play. Airway clearance can help treat a bronchiectasis flare-up, but it does much more. For example, medical devices like The SmartVest Airway Clearance System allow you to address the underlying condition that is triggering a flare-up (i.e.,  mucus buildup).

As a high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) therapy device, SmartVest gently squeezes and releases the upper chest wall, creating rapid air movement throughout the lungs. You wear this device like a vest to receive 360° chest coverage during each therapy session (typically 2x a day).

The result? The gentle vibrations and oscillation of air help thin, loosen and propel mucus up and out of the airways, so it’s easier to cough up.

SmartVest offers patients with chronic lung conditions that restrict the airways, like bronchiectasis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a proactive treatment plan to manage their condition and reduce the onset of flare-ups that require hospitalization [6].

Proactive Airway Clearance Therapy

Flare-ups can put your life on hold, possibly making you miss important events and special moments. They often cause discomfort and pain and can be scary for you and your loved ones to experience.

If you’d like to learn more about how SmartVest can help you manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of flare-ups, we encourage you to speak to one of our patient care advocates today. 

You can easily schedule a 15-minute phone call with our Respiratory Therapists to discuss your concerns, ask questions, and get the support you deserve for your symptoms, or, call them directly at 1.855.528.5690

We’ll also send you an informational packet with helpful resources, clinical studies, testimonials, and more to share with your healthcare team.

Don’t let flare-ups stop you from living independently. Instead, get the support and treatment plan you need to breathe easier and live life to its fullest potential.


[1] Medical News Today. “What can sputum (phlegm) tell us?” Retrieved from

[2] Mayo Clinic. “Symptoms: Fatigue.” Retrieved from

[3] American Lung Association. “Bronchiectasis Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Retrieved from

[4] Mayo Clinic. “Shortness of Breath.” Retrieved from

[5] American Lung Association. “Treating and Managing Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from

[6] Powner J, Nesmith A, Kirkpatrick DP, Nichols JK, Bermingham B, Solomon GM. Employment of an algorithm of care including chest physiotherapy results in reduced hospitalizations and stability of lung function in bronchiectasis. BMC Pulm Med. 2019;19(1):82. Published 2019 Apr 25