Types of Bronchiectasis: What You Need to Know

A doctor presses their stethoscope to the chest of a patient

If you or someone you love is living with bronchiectasis, you may be aware that the causes and symptoms of this chronic condition differ among individuals.

While there are commonalities, such as shortness of breath, chronic cough, and respiratory infections, bronchiectasis affects patients differently.

The reason?

Bronchiectasis develops from other lung diseases that are either inherited or acquired.

Types of Bronchiectasis, Treating Bronchiectasis

What Is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis (brong-kee-EK-tuh-sis) is an irreversible, chronic lung condition where the airways in your lungs (bronchi) become damaged and abnormally widened from recurring inflammation or infection.

As your airways become repeatedly damaged, your lungs slowly lose their ability to mobilize and clear mucus. Like other chronic conditions, bronchiectasis is irreversible; therefore, early diagnosis and treatment are critical to helping you manage individual symptoms.


Bronchiectasis can be associated with cystic fibrosis; however, it can also be triggered by other severe conditions¹, including:

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Immunodeficiency disorders
  • Recurring infections that damage the airways
  • Asthma²

As a result, bronchiectasis is typically split into two categories: Cystic Fibrosis Bronchiectasis (CFB) and Non-Cystic Fibrosis Bronchiectasis (NCFB).


A genetic condition that causes thick, sticky mucus buildup in a patient’s lungs, resulting in repeated pulmonary infections. Like bronchiectasis, each cycle of inflammation and infection further damages the bronchi, causing patients to exhibit signs of bronchiectasis.


A condition that develops from various preexisting conditions, such as repeated infection from other chronic lung conditions (e.g., asthma, COPD, or pneumonia); certain genetic conditions (i.e., primary ciliary dyskinesia,³ which can cause the bronchial tubes to widen); or autoimmune diseases that cause inflammation and subsequent dilation of the airways.4

Note that any condition that causes patients to experience a vicious cycle of respiratory infection, airway inflammation, mucus buildup, and lung damage has the potential to trigger NCFB.4


A comorbid condition of asthma and bronchiectasis symptoms. Medical experts believe that bronchiectasis prevalence is higher in asthma patients than currently suspected.5

Because symptoms of asthma and bronchiectasis are so similar, patients are often misdiagnosed, causing their treatment to be delayed and symptoms to worsen. Additionally, treating both conditions simultaneously can be difficult; therefore, more research is necessary to comprehend the nature and prevalence of ABOS fully.

Types of Bronchiectasis

Medical experts may also classify bronchiectasis into different types based on the appearance and distribution of the bronchial tube abnormalities. For example, the four main bronchiectasis types are cylindrical, varicose, cystic, and traction.6

Let’s explore each bronchiectasis type in detail.

Cylindrical Bronchiectasis

Cylindrical bronchiectasis is the most common type, characterized by uniform dilation and widening of the bronchial tubes.7 Although the affected airways maintain their cylindrical shape, they appear wider than normal.

Varicose Bronchiectasis

Varicose bronchiectasis is characterized by irregular dilations and constrictions of the bronchial tubes, giving them a varicose vein-like appearance.8

Cystic Bronchiectasis

Cystic bronchiectasis (or Saccular) is considered the most severe form of bronchiectasis9 and is characterized by the formation of cysts or fluid-filled cavities within the bronchial tubes that replicate a honeycomb-like appearance.10

Traction Bronchiectasis

Traction bronchiectasis occurs when scarring in the lungs causes the airways to become deformed and pulled out of shape.11

Treating the Different Types of Bronchiectasis

Each bronchiectasis type has unique causes, characteristics, risk factors, and treatment alternatives. However, managing and preventing the buildup of mucus through airway clearance can help break the cycle of bronchiectasis and prevent further, irreversible damage to the lungs.

Though the types of bronchiectasis and their symptoms may differ, there is one way to clear the lungs of excess mucus.

SmartVest user sitting on bed while using airway clearance device.

The SmartVest Airway Clearance System

SmartVest is a high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) therapy device that is made up of a garment you wear like a vest and an air pulse generator that connects via an air hose to the garment. During therapy, the device delivers repeating pulses of air that gently squeeze and release your upper chest wall, causing mucus to thin, loosen, and propel towards major airways so it’s easier to cough out.

Unlike other respiratory vests on the market, SmartVest offers 360° chest coverage, plus MORE BREATHING ROOM™, so you can relax during therapy in the comfort of your home. In fact, on average, SmartVest releases 91% of its air between compressions.12

SmartVest Results

SmartVest was used in a study as part of an algorithm of care program to help patients find relief from bronchiectasis-related symptoms.

The results demonstrated that SmartVest helped:

    • Reduce flare-ups requiring hospitalization
    • Decrease antibiotic usage
    • Stabilize lung function13

Read the study!

No matter the type of bronchiectasis you’re dealing with, SmartVest could help you breathe easier, manage symptoms, and get back to living life—on your terms.

To learn more about SmartVest, request an informational packet today. For questions about talking to your doctor about SmartVest or insurance coverage, you can request a call with a Respiratory Therapists or contact them directly at 1.855.528.5690.

Graphic icon of person contacting a respiratory therapist.


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

[2] National Library of Medicine. “Does Asthma-Bronchiectasis Overlap Syndrome (ABOS) Really Exist?” Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37071539/

[3] American Lung Association. “Learn about Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/primary-ciliary-dyskinesia/learn-about-primary-ciliary-dyskinesia

[4] National Library of Medicine. “Suspecting non‐cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis: What the busy primary care clinician needs to know.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5396137/

[5] National Library of Medicine. “Does Asthma-Bronchiectasis Overlap Syndrome (ABOS) Really Exist?” Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37071539/

[6] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21144-bronchiectasis

[7] Radiopaedia. “Cylindrical Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://radiopaedia.org/articles/cylindrical-bronchiectasis?lang=us

[8] National Library of Medicine. “Diagnostic imaging in adult non-cystic fibrosis bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6717619/

[9] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21144-bronchiectasis

[10] Medscape. “Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/296961-overview?form=fpf

[11] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchiectasis.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21144-bronchiectasis

[12] Pokorney J. Comparison of Oscillatory Trough Pressure Generated by High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO) Systems: A White Paper.

[13] 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.