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Bronchoscopy

What is bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy is a procedure to look directly at the airways in the lungs through a thin, lighted tube (bronchoscope). The bronchoscope is put in the nose or mouth, moved down the throat and trachea (windpipe), and into the airways. A health care provider can then see the voice box (larynx), trachea, large airways to the lungs (bronchi), and smaller branches of the bronchi (bronchioles).

There are two types of bronchoscope: flexible and rigid. Both types come in different widths.

A rigid bronchoscope is a straight tube. It’s only used to view the larger airways. It may be used within the bronchi to:

  • Remove a large amount of secretions or blood
  • Control bleeding
  • Remove foreign objects
  • Remove diseased tissue (lesions)

A flexible bronchoscope is used more often. Unlike the rigid scope, it can be moved down into the smaller airways (bronchioles). The flexible bronchoscope may be used to:

  • Give oxygen
  • Suction out secretions
  • Take tissue samples (biopsy)
  • Put medicine into the lungs
  • Give laser therapy

Why might I need bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy may be done to diagnose and treat lung problems such as:

  • Tumors or bronchial cancer
  • Airway blockage (obstruction)
  • Narrowed areas in airways (strictures)
  • Inflammation and infections such as tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, and fungal or parasitic lung infections
  • Interstitial pulmonary disease
  • Causes of persistent cough
  • Causes of coughing up blood
  • Spots seen on chest X-rays
  • Vocal cord paralysis

Diagnostic procedures or treatments that are done with bronchoscopy include:

  • Biopsy of tissue
  • Collection of sputum
  • Fluid put into the lungs and then removed (bronchoalveolar lavage or BAL) to diagnose lung disorders
  • Removal of secretions, blood, mucus plugs, or growths (polyps) to clear airways
  • Control of bleeding in the bronchi
  • Removing foreign objects or other blockages
  • Laser therapy or radiation treatment for bronchial tumors
  • Placement of a small tube (stent) to keep an airway open tent placement
  • Drainage of an area of pus (abscess)

Your health care provider may also have other reasons to advise a bronchoscopy.

What are the risks of bronchoscopy?

In most cases, the flexible bronchoscope is used, not the rigid bronchoscope, because it has less risk of damaging the tissue, patients tolerate it better, and it provides better access to smaller areas of the lung tissue.

All procedures have some risks. The risks of this procedure may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Hole in the airway (bronchial perforation)
  • Irritation of the airways (bronchospasm)
  • Irritation of the vocal cords (laryngospasm)
  • Air in the space between the lung covering (pleural space) that causes the lung to collapse (pneumothorax)

Your risks may vary depending on your general health and other factors. Ask your health care provider which risks apply most to you. Talk with him or her about any concerns you have.

In some cases, a person may not be able to have a bronchoscopy. Reasons for this can include:

  • Severe narrowing or blockage of the trachea (tracheal stenosis)
  • High blood pressure in the lungs’ blood vessels (pulmonary hypertension)
  • Severe coughing or gagging

If you have high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood (hypercapnia) or severe shortness of breath, you may need to be on a breathing machine before the procedure. This is done so oxygen can be sent right into your lungs while the bronchoscope is in place.

How do I get ready for bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy may be done to diagnose and treat lung problems such as:
  • Tumors or bronchial cancer
  • Airway blockage (obstruction)
  • Narrowed areas in airways (strictures)
  • Inflammation and infections such as tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, and fungal or parasitic lung infections
  • Interstitial pulmonary disease
  • Causes of persistent cough
  • Causes of coughing up blood
  • Spots seen on chest X-rays
  • Vocal cord paralysis

Diagnostic procedures or treatments that are done with bronchoscopy include:

  • Biopsy of tissue
  • Collection of sputum
  • Fluid put into the lungs and then removed (bronchoalveolar lavage or BAL) to diagnose lung disorders
  • Removal of secretions, blood, mucus plugs, or growths (polyps) to clear airways
  • Control of bleeding in the bronchi
  • Removing foreign objects or other blockages
  • Laser therapy or radiation treatment for bronchial tumors
  • Placement of a small tube (stent) to keep an airway open tent placement
  • Drainage of an area of pus (abscess)

Your health care provider may also have other reasons to advise a bronchoscopy.

What happens during bronchoscopy?

You may have your procedure as an outpatient. This means you go home the same day. Or it may be done as part of a longer stay in the hospital. The way the procedure is done may vary. It depends on your condition and your health care provider's methods. In most cases, a bronchoscopy will follow this process:

  1. You may be asked to remove your clothes. If so, you will be given a hospital gown to wear. You may be asked to remove jewelry or other objects.
  2. You will sit on a procedure table with the head raised like a chair.
  3. An intravenous (IV) line may be put into your arm or hand.
  4. You may be given antibiotics before and after the procedure.
  5. You will be awake during the procedure. You will be given medicine to help you relax (sedative). For a rigid bronchoscopy, you will be given general anesthesia. This is medicine that prevents pain and lets you sleep through the procedure
  6. You may be given oxygen through a nasal tube or face mask. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing will be watched during the procedure.
  7. Numbing medicine will be sprayed into the back of your throat. This is to prevent gagging as the bronchoscope is passed down your throat. The spray may have a bitter taste to it. Once the tube passes down your throat the gagging feeling will go away.
  8. You won’t be able to talk or swallow saliva during the procedure. Saliva will be suctioned from your mouth as needed.
  9. The health care provider will move the bronchoscope down your throat and into the airways. You may have some discomfort. Your airway will not be blocked. You can breathe around the bronchoscope. You will be given extra oxygen if needed.
  10. As the bronchoscope is moved down, the lungs will be examined. Tissue samples or mucus may be taken for testing. Other procedures may be done as needed. This may include giving medicine or stopping bleeding.
  11. When the exam and other procedures are done, the bronchoscope will be taken out.

What happens after bronchoscopy?

After the procedure, you will spend some time in a recovery room. You may be sleepy and confused when you wake up from general anesthesia or sedation. Your healthcare team will watch your vital signs, such as your heart rate and breathing.

A chest X-ray may be done right after the procedure. This is to make sure your lungs are okay. You may be told to gently cough up and spit your saliva into a basin. This is so a nurse can check your secretions for blood.

You may have some throat discomfort. You will not be allowed to eat or drink until your gag reflex has returned. You may notice some throat soreness and pain with swallowing for a few days. This is normal. Using throat lozenges or gargle may help.

If you had an outpatient procedure, you will go home when your health care provider says it’s okay. Someone will need to drive you home.

At home, you can go back to your normal diet and activities if instructed by your health care provider. You may need to not do strenuous physical activity for a few days.

Call your health care provider if you have any of the below:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
  • Redness or swelling of the IV site
  • Blood or other fluid leaking from the IV site
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Severe hoarseness
  • Trouble breathing

Your health care provider may give you other instructions after the procedure.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Ziegler, Olivia Walton, MS, PA
Date Last Reviewed: 1/5/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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