Is a Bronchoscopy?
A bronchoscopy is a test that allows your doctor to examine your
airways. Your doctor will thread an instrument called a bronchoscope through
your nose and down your throat to reach your lungs. The bronchoscope is made of
a flexible fiber-optic material and has a light source and a viewing device or
camera on the end. Most bronchoscopes are compatible with color video, which helps
your doctor document their findings.
Using the bronchoscope, your doctor can view all of the
structures that make up your respiratory system including your larynx, trachea,
and the smaller airways of your lungs, which include the bronchi and
A bronchoscopy can be used to diagnose:
- a lung disease
- a tumor
- a chronic cough
- an infection
Your doctor may order a bronchoscopy if you have an abnormal
chest X-ray or CT scan that shows evidence of an infection, a tumor, or a
The test is also sometimes used as a treatment tool. For example,
a bronchoscopy can allow your doctor to deliver medication to your lungs or
remove an object that’s caught in your airways, like a piece of food.
for a Bronchoscopy
A local anesthetic spray is applied to your nose and throat
during a bronchoscopy. You’ll probably get a sedative to help you relax. This
means that you’ll be awake but drowsy during the procedure. Oxygen is usually
given during a bronchoscopy. General anesthesia is rarely needed.
You’ll need to avoid eating or drinking anything for six to 12
hours before the bronchoscopy. Before the procedure, ask your doctor if you
need to stop taking:
- other blood thinners
Bring someone with you to your appointment or arrange for transportation
to drive you home afterward.
Once you’re relaxed, your doctor will insert the bronchoscope
into your nose. The bronchoscope passes from your nose down to your throat
until it reaches your bronchi. The bronchi are the airways in your lungs.
Your doctor may wash your lungs by sending a warm saline solution
through the bronchoscope and then removing it. Cleaning your airways makes
examination easier and gives your doctor samples of your lung cells and
secretions. Brushes or needles may be attached to the bronchoscope to collect
tissue samples from your lungs. These samples can help your doctor diagnose any
lung conditions you may have.
Depending on your specific condition, your doctor may find one or
more of the following:
- an infection
- a blockage
- a tumor
If your airways are blocked, you might need a stent to keep them
open. A stent is a small tube that can be placed into your bronchi with the
When your doctor is finished examining your lungs, they’ll remove
Technology for Bronchoscopies
Advanced forms of imaging are sometimes used to conduct a
bronchoscopy. Advanced techniques can provide a more detailed picture of the
inside of your lungs:
- During a
virtual bronchoscopy, your doctor uses CT scans to see your airways in
an endobronchial ultrasound, your doctor uses an ultrasound probe
attached to a bronchoscope to see your airways.
- During a
fluorescence bronchoscopy, your doctor uses a fluorescent light attached
to the bronchoscope to see the inside of your lungs.
of a Bronchoscopy
Bronchoscopy is safe for most people. However, like all medical
procedures, there are some risks involved. Risks may include:
- bleeding, especially if a biopsy is done
- trouble breathing
- a low blood oxygen level during the test
Contact your doctor if you:
- have a fever
- are coughing up blood
- have trouble breathing
These symptoms can indicate a complication that requires medical
attention, such as an infection.
Very rare but potentially life-threatening risks of bronchoscopy
include heart attack and lung collapse. A collapsed lung can be due to a
pneumothorax, or increased pressure on your lung due to the escape of air into
the lining of your lung. This results from a puncture of the lung during the
procedure and is more common with a rigid bronchoscope than with a flexible
fiber-optic scope. If air collects around your lung during the procedure, your
doctor can use a chest tube to remove the collected air.
from a Bronchoscopy
A bronchoscopy is relatively quick, lasting about 30 minutes.
Because you’ll be sedated, you’ll rest at the hospital for a couple of hours
until you feel more awake and the numbness in your throat wears off. Your
breathing and blood pressure will be monitored during your recovery.
You won’t be able to eat or drink anything until your throat is
no longer numb. This can take one to two hours. Your throat might feel sore or
scratchy for a couple of days, and you might be hoarse. This is normal. It usually
doesn’t last for a long time and goes away without medication or treatment.