Symptoms of bronchiectasis 

The most common symptom of bronchiectasis is a persistent cough, which affects around 9 out of 10 people with the condition.

Three out of four people with bronchiectasis regularly cough up large amounts of phlegm (sputum), which can be clear, pale yellow or yellow-greenish in colour. Other people may only occasionally cough up small amounts phlegm, or none at all.

Other symptoms include:

Signs of a lung infection

If you develop a lung infection then your symptoms will usually get worse within a few days. This is known as an infective exacerbation and it can cause:

  • coughing up even more phlegm, which may be more green than usual or smell unpleasant
  • worsening shortness of breath

You may also:

  • feel very tired
  • cough up blood, if you had not already done so
  • experience a sharp chest pain that is made worse when breathing (pleurisy)
  • feel generally unwell

When to seek medical advice

If you haven't previously been diagnosed with bronchiectasis and you develop a persistent cough, visit your GP for advice.

While persistent coughing may not necessarily be the result of bronchiectasis, it will require further investigation.

If you have been previously diagnosed with bronchiectasis and you begin to experience symptoms that suggest you have a lung infection, contact your GP.

This is because it's likely you will need treatment with antibiotics (although some people with bronchiectasis are given a stock of antibiotics as a precaution in case they suddenly develop a lung infection).

When to seek immediate medical advice

Some people with bronchiectasis develop a severe lung infection that may need to be treated in hospital.

Signs and symptoms of serious lung infection include:

  • a bluish tinge to the skin and lips (cyanosis)
  • confusion
  • a high temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • rapid breathing (more than 25 breaths a minute)
  • severe chest pain that makes it too painful to cough and clear your lungs

If you experience any of the above, phone the healthcare professional in charge of your care for advice immediately. This may be your GP, a doctor who specialises in lung conditions (pulmonologist) or a specialist nurse.

If this isn't possible then phone NHS 111 or your local out-of-hours service.


Watch as a GP describes the most common causes for coughs and how they can be treated

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 22/11/2015

Page last reviewed: 29/08/2013

Next review due: 29/08/2015