Bronchoscopy is a test to view the airways and diagnose lung disease. It may also be used during the treatment of some lung conditions.
Fiberoptic bronchoscopy; Lung cancer - bronchoscopy; Pneumonia - bronchoscopy; Chronic lung disease - bronchoscopy
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 one half inch (1 centimeter) wide and about 2 feet (60 centimeters) long. In rare cases, a rigid bronchoscope is used.
How to Prepare for the Test
Follow instructions on how to prepare for the test. You will likely be told:
The test is most often done as an outpatient procedure, and you will go home the same day. Rarely, 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 for:
Risks when general anesthesia is used include:
Christie NA. Operative otolaryngology: bronchoscopy. In: Myers EN, Snyderman CH, eds. Operative Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 18.
Kupeli E, Feller-Kopman D, Mehta AC. Diagnostic bronchoscopy. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 22.
Weinberger SE, Cockrill BA, Mandel J. Evaluation of the patient with pulmonary disease. In: Weinberger SE, Cockrill BA, Mandel J, eds. Principles of Pulmonary Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 3.
Review Date: 1/1/2020
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron, Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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