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 device used to see the lungs. It can
be flexible or rigid. Usually, a flexible bronchoscope is
used. The flexible bronchoscope is a tube less than 1/2
inch wide and about 2 feet long.
The scope is passed through your mouth or nose, and then into your lungs. Going through the
nose is a good way to look at the upper airways. The mouth method allows the doctor to use a
A rigid bronchoscope requires general anesthesia. You will be asleep. If a flexible bronchoscope
is used, you will be awake. The doctor will spray a numbing drug (anesthetic) in your mouth and
throat. This will cause coughing at first, which will stop as the anesthetic begins to work. When
the area feels thick, it is sufficiently numb. Medications may be given through an IV to help you
If the bronchoscopy is done through the nose, numbing jelly will be place into one nostril.
Once you are numb, the tube will be inserted into the lungs. Then, the doctor sends saline
solution through the tube. This flushes the lungs and allows the doctor to collect samples of lung
cells, fluids, and other materials inside the air sacs. This part of the procedure is called a lavage.
Sometimes, tiny brushes, needles, or forceps may be passed through the bronchoscope and
used to take tissue samples (biopsies) from your lungs. A doctor can also place a stent in the
airway or view the lungs with ultrasound during a bronchoscopy.
How to prepare for the test
Do not eat or drink anything 6 to 12 hours before the test. Your doctor may also want you to avoid
any aspirin or ibuprofen medications before the procedure.
You may be sleepy after the test, so you should arrange for transportation to and from the
Many people want to rest the following day, so make arrangements for work, child care, or other
obligations. Usually, the test is done as an outpatient procedure, and you will go home the same
day. Some patients may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
How the test will feel
Local anesthesia is used to relax the throat muscles. Until the anesthetic begins to work, you may
feel fluid running down the back of the throat and the need to cough or gag.
Once the anesthetic takes effect, there may be sensations of pressure or mild tugging as the tube
moves through the wind pipe (trachea). Although many patients feel like they might suffocate
when the tube is in the throat, there is NO risk of suffocation. If you cough during the test, more
anesthetic will be added.
When the anesthetic wears off, your throat may be scratchy for several days. After the test, the
cough reflex will return in 1 to 2 hours. You will not be allowed to eat or drink until your cough
Why the test is performed
Bronchoscopy is recommended if lung disease is suspected and an inspection of the airways or a
tissue sample is needed to confirm it. The test can be used to evaluate almost any disease in
pulmonary medicine, including:
Acute pulmonary eosinophilia (Loeffler's syndrome)
Chronic pulmonary coccidioidomycosis
Disseminated tuberculosis (infectious)
Chronic pulmonary histoplasmosis
Metastatic cancer to the lung
Pneumonia in immunocompromised host
Pneumonia with lung abscess
Pulmonary aspergilloma (mycetoma)
Pulmonary aspergillosis (invasive type)
Pulmonary histiocytosis X (eosinophilic granuloma)
Bronchoscopy is also recommended if you have been coughing up blood.
Normal cells and secretions are found. No foreign substances or blockages are seen.
What abnormal results mean
Abnormality in the bronchial wall
Enlarged glands or lymph nodes
Stenosis or compression of the trachea
Dilated tubular vessels
Irregular bronchial branching
Infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or tuberculosis
What the risks are
The main risks from bronchoscopy are:
Bleeding from biopsy sites
There is also a small risk of:
Low blood oxygen
In the rare instances when general anesthesia is used, there is some risk for:
Depressed heart rate
Change in blood pressure
There is a small risk for:
When a biopsy is taken, there is a risk of hemorrhage. Some bleeding is common. The technician
or nurse will monitor the amount of bleeding.
There is a significant risk of choking if anything (including water) is swallowed before the
anesthetic wears off.
After the procedure, your gag reflex will return. However, until it does, do not eat or drink
anything. To test if the gag reflex has returned, place a spoon on the back of your tongue for a
few seconds with light pressure. If there is no gagging, wait 15 minutes and attempt it again.
Make sure that no small or sharp objects are used to test this reflex.