Bronchoscopy is a test to view the airways and diagnose lung disease. It may also be used during the treatment of some lung conditions.
A bronchoscope is a device used to see the inside of the airways and lungs. The scope can be flexible or rigid. A flexible scope is almost always used. It is a tube less than one-half inch wide and about two feet long. In rare cases, a rigid bronchoscope is used.
The scope is passed through your mouth or nose through your windpipe (trachea) and into your lungs. Going through the nose is a good way to look at the upper airways. Going through the mouth allows the doctor to use a larger bronchoscope.
Follow instructions on how to prepare for the test. You will likely be told to:
Usually, the test is done as an outpatient procedure and you will go home the same day. Some patients may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
Local numbing medicine (anesthetic) is used to relax and numb your throat muscles. Until the medicine begins to work, you may feel fluid running down the back of your throat. This may cause you to cough or gag.
Once the medicine takes effect, you may feel pressure or mild tugging as the tube moves through the windpipe (trachea). Although you may feel like you are not able to breathe when the tube is in your throat, there is no risk of this happening. The medicines given to relax you help with these symptoms and will help you forget most of the procedure.
When the anesthetic wears off, your throat may be scratchy for several days. After the test, the cough reflex will return in 1 to 2 hours. You will not be allowed to eat or drink until your cough reflex returns.
You may have a bronchoscopy to help your doctor diagnose lung problems. Your doctor will be able to inspect the airways or take a biopsy sample.
Common reasons to perform a bronchoscopy for diagnosis are:
You may also have a bronchoscopy to treat a lung or airway problem, such as to:
Normal cells and fluids are found. No foreign substances or blockages are seen.
Many disorders can be diagnosed with bronchoscopy, including:
Main risks of bronchoscopy are:
There is also a small risk of:
Risks when general anesthesia is used include:
Kraft M. Approach to the patient with respiratory disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 83.
Kupeli E, Karnac D, Mehta AC. Flexible bronchoscopy. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al., eds. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 22.
Reynolds HY. Respiratory structure and function: mechanisms and testing. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 85.
Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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