A bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to view your airways and lungs. This procedure can be used to diagnose or treat a condition of the airways or lungs.

What is a bronchoscopy?

During a bronchoscopy, a doctor inserts a small tube attached to a camera (called a bronchoscope) through your nose or mouth.

This allows the doctor to see your airways and take photographs or videos of them. It also allows them to take a sample of the tissue there, which is known as a biopsy.

The results from a bronchoscopy help the doctor make a diagnosis and plan the right treatment for your condition.

When is a bronchoscopy used?

If you have an abnormal chest x-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan result, your doctor may ask you to undergo a bronchoscopy to help diagnose or investigate:

  • lung disease, with symptoms such as wheezing, chronic cough, or shortness of breath
  • an infection
  • a tumour
  • fever

You may also have a bronchoscopy to treat an airway problem. This might involve:

  • treating cancer
  • removing a foreign object
  • removing fluid or mucus

Preparing for your bronchoscopy

Don't eat for 6–12 hours before your bronchoscopy and you'll need to remove any dentures before the procedure. You should also consult your doctor about any medications you are on, including:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen
  • diabetes medication
  • blood thinning medications

You'll need to arrange for someone to take you home afterward.

What's involved with having a bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy is usually performed under mild sedation, so you are awake but feel relaxed and drowsy during the procedure.

Before the procedure, your doctor will give you a local anesthetic so that you do not feel pain. This is usually a spray or a gargle. You might also be given an injection to make you drowsy.

It might be slightly uncomfortable to have the tube inserted. It will probably be in your airways for 20 minutes or less. You will be able to breathe.

After the bronchoscopy, you will spend some time in recovery waiting for the anesthetic and sedative to wear off.

For Results and diagnosis

Immediately after the medications wear off, the doctor may share what they saw during the procedure. Other results, including those of a biopsy, can take several days or weeks to arrive.

Typical results of a bronchoscopy mean that the doctor did not see any foreign materials, blockages, or atypical cells or fluids in the bronchi.
If the results are abnormal, the doctor will recommend further tests or treatments, depending on the outcome.

Abnormal results can indicate one or more of the following issues:

  • bacterial infection
  • viral infection
  • fungi or parasites
  • inflammation of lung tissue
  • lung damage
  • cancer
  • narrowing of the trachea or bronchi
  • Rejection of a transplanted lung a few days, you might feel an irritation in your throat. However, it should go away.

Risks and complications

Bronchoscopy is usually safe, but there are certain risks. There is a small chance that a person may develop:

  • an abnormal heartbeat, which is called an arrhythmia
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • infection
  • low blood oxygen levels during the procedure
  • minor bleeding, especially after a biopsy
  • pneumonia

Also, a person with a history of heart conditions may have an increased risk of a heart attack.

Rarely, a bronchoscopy can cause a lung to collapse, which is called pneumothorax. This happens if the lung is punctured during the procedure. It is more likely if a doctor is using a rigid rather than a flexible scope.

Pneumothorax is severe and requires treatment. A doctor may perform a chest X-ray after bronchoscopy to check the lungs for signs of collapse.

When a person has general anesthesia, additional risks include:

  • blood pressure changes
  • muscle pain
  • nausea
  • a slow heart rate
  • vomiting
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