Bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee) is a procedure used to look inside the lungs' airways, called the bronchi and bronchioles. The airways carry air from the trachea (TRA-ke-ah), or windpipe, to the lungs.
During the procedure, your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope through your nose (or sometimes your mouth), down your throat, and into your airways. If you have a breathing tube, the bronchoscope can be passed through the tube to your airways.
The bronchoscope has a light and small camera that allow your doctor to see your windpipe and airways and take pictures. You’ll be given medicine to make you relaxed and sleepy during the procedure.
If there's a lot of bleeding in your lungs or a large object stuck in your throat, your doctor may use a bronchoscope with a rigid tube. The rigid tube, which is passed through the mouth, is wider. This allows your doctor to see inside it more easily, treat bleeding, and remove stuck objects.
A rigid bronchoscopy usually is done in a hospital operating room using general anesthesia (AN-es-THE-ze-a). The term "anesthesia" refers to a loss of feeling and awareness. General anesthesia temporarily puts you to sleep.
Bronchoscopy usually is done to find the cause of a lung problem. Your doctor may take samples of mucus or tissue from your lungs during the procedure to test in a lab.
Bronchoscopy may show a tumor, signs of an infection, excess mucus in the airways, the site of bleeding, or something blocking the airway, like a piece of food.
Sometimes bronchoscopy is used to treat lung problems. It may be done to insert a stent in an airway. An airway stent is a small tube that holds the airway open. It's used when a tumor or other condition blocks an airway.
In children, the procedure most often is used to remove something blocking an airway. In some cases, it's used to find out what's causing a cough that has lasted for at least a few weeks.
Bronchoscopy usually is a safe procedure. You may be hoarse and have a sore throat after the procedure. There's a slight risk of minor bleeding or developing a fever or pneumonia.
A rare, but more serious risk is a pneumothorax (noo-mo-THOR-aks), or collapsed lung. In this condition, air collects in the space around the lungs, which causes one or both lungs to collapse. Usually, this problem is easily treated.
Scientists are studying new methods of bronchoscopy, including virtual bronchoscopy. This is a type of computed tomography (to-MOG-rah-fee), or CT, scan. A CT scan uses special x rays to take clear, detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
During the scan, you lie on a table that slides through the center of a tunnel-shaped x-ray machine. X-ray tubes in the scanner rotate around you and take pictures of your lungs.
Virtual bronchoscopy still isn’t widely used.