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 healthcare provider can then see the voice box (larynx), trachea, large airways to the lungs (bronchi), and smaller branches of the bronchi (bronchioles).
There are 2 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:
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:
A bronchoscopy may be done to diagnose and treat lung problems such as:
Diagnostic procedures or treatments that are done with bronchoscopy include:
Your healthcare provider may also have other reasons to advise a 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:
Your risks may vary depending on your general health and other factors. Ask your healthcare 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:
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.
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 healthcare provider's methods. In most cases, a bronchoscopy will follow this process:
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 healthcare provider says it’s OK. Someone will need to drive you home.
At home, you can go back to your normal diet and activities if instructed by your healthcare provider. You may need to not do strenuous physical activity for a few days.
Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the below:
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the procedure.