Bronchoscopy is a test to view the airways and diagnose lung disease. It may also be used during the treatment of some lung conditions.
How the Test is Performed
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 a half inch (1 centimeter) wide and about 2 feet (60 centimeters) 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 your health care provider to use a larger bronchoscope. If a flexible bronchoscope is used, you will probably be awake but sedated. During the procedure:
How to Prepare for the Test
Follow instructions on how to prepare for the test. You will likely be told:
Usually, the test is done as an outpatient procedure and you will go home the same day. Some people may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
How the Test will Feel
Local anesthetic is used to relax and numb your throat muscles. Until this 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 your windpipe. 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 you receive to relax will help with these symptoms. You will likely forget most of the procedure.
When the anesthetic wears off, your throat may be scratchy for several days. After the test, your ability to cough (cough reflex) will return in 1 to 2 hours. You will not be allowed to eat or drink until your cough reflex returns.
Why the Test is Performed
You may have a bronchoscopy to help your provider diagnose lung problems. Your provider will be able to inspect your airways or take a biopsy sample.
Common reasons to do a bronchoscopy for diagnosis are:
You may also have a bronchoscopy to treat a lung or airway problem. For example, it may be done to:
Normal results mean normal cells and fluids are found. No foreign substances or blockages are seen.
What Abnormal Results Mean
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:
Fiberoptic bronchoscopy; Lung cancer – bronchoscopy; Pneumonia – bronchoscopy; Chronic lung disease – bronchoscopy
Kraft M. Approach to the patient with respiratory disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 83.
Kupeli E, Feller-Kopman D, Mehta AC. Diagnostic bronchoscopy. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 22.
Scanlon PD. Respiratory function: mechanisms and testing. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 85.