Bronchoscopy is the visual examination of the air passages leading into the lungs. The exam is done with a bronchoscope, a long, thin tube with a camera on the tip. The tube may be flexible or rigid, depending on why it is being done.
Reasons for Procedure
Bronchoscopy is most often done for the following reasons:
- Diagnose cancer, a lung disease, or an infection
- Examine for obstructions and abnormal secretions
- Obtain a tissue sample for examination under a microscope—biopsy
- Obtain a secretion sample
- Investigate the source of a persistent cough or blood that is being coughed up
- Check for a foreign object that may have accidentally been inhaled rather than swallowed
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Reaction to anesthesia
- Collapsed lung
- Irregular heart rate
- Sore and swollen throat
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications, such as:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may do some or all of the following:
Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
Leading up to your procedure:
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure.
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight unless otherwise instructed.
Local anesthetic will be given to numb the throat and you will have sedation. These will also help to prevent coughing and gagging. Sometimes, a bronchoscopy is done under general anesthesia. In this case, you will be asleep.
Description of the Procedure
The bronchoscope is a long, thin tube. It will be inserted through the nose or mouth. The scope will be passed down the throat and into the lungs.
The scope sends an image of the lung tissue to a monitor. The images and the scope may be used to remove a small tissue sample. If a foreign body is present, it may be removed through the scope. If a lavage is planned, a water solution may be used to wash an area. The solution is then removed and sent to a lab for examination.
How Much Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain during the procedure. You may feel a tugging sensation when the doctor removes a tissue sample. You may also have some breathing difficulty or shortness of breath during the procedure.
Expect some soreness in your throat and hoarseness for a few days after the procedure. Any discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
At the Care Center
Right after the procedure, the staff may:
- Take an x-ray of your lungs.
- Encourage you to sip water. You will gradually progress to solid foods.
When you return home, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions. If you had to stop medications before the procedure, ask your doctor when you can start again.
You may be given a report after the sedative wears off and you are alert. It may take a few days to receive results from a biopsy. It may take up to 6 weeks for findings from a tuberculosis test. Ask your doctor when to expect your results.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Coughing up more than a teaspoon of blood
- Severe nausea or vomiting
- Increased or unusual stridor, which is a noisy sound that is heard when breathing
- Pain that you cannot control with the medications you have been given
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Lung Association
American Thoracic Society
Explore bronchoscopy. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/bron. Updated February 8, 2012. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Fiberoptic bronchoscopy. American Thoracic Society website. Available at: http://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/fiberoptic-bronchoscopy.pdf. Accessed August 5, 2015.
Lung cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 29, 2014. Accessed September 9, 2014.
6/2/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, Kelly S, Wu P, Ebbert JO. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.