How is cough characterized in bronchiectasis?

Updated: Sep 15, 2020
  • Author: Ethan E Emmons, MD; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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Most individuals have never smoked (55%) or have smoked too little to account for their degree of cough, findings of obstruction on spirometry testing, and daily sputum production.

Chronic productive cough is prominent, [80] occurring in up to 98% of patients. Sputum is typically produced on a daily basis in greater than 70% of patients, with one study reporting production in 96% of patients. [81] Some patients produce sputum only with acute upper respiratory tract infections, but otherwise they have quiescent disease.

Sputum is typically mucoid and relatively odorless. During infectious exacerbations, however, sputum becomes purulent and may develop an offensive odor.

In the past, total daily sputum amount has been used to characterize the severity of bronchiectasis, with less than 10 mL defined as mild bronchiectasis, 10-150 mL defined as moderate bronchiectasis, and greater than 150 mL defined as severe bronchiectasis. Today, bronchiectasis is most often classified by radiographic findings. In patients with CF, the volume of sputum produced is generally much greater than that associated with other etiologies of bronchiectasis.

Hemoptysis occurs in 56-92% of patients with bronchiectasis. Hemoptysis is more commonly observed in dry bronchiectasis. Hemoptysis is generally mild and manifested by blood flecks in the patient's usual purulent sputum. This is often the factor that leads patients to consult a physician. Bleeding usually originates from dilated bronchial arteries, which contain blood at systemic (rather than pulmonary) pressures. Therefore, massive hemoptysis may occur but is rarely a cause of death. [17, 81, 82]

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