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What To Expect During Bronchoscopy

Your doctor will do the bronchoscopy in an exam room at a special clinic or in a hospital. The bronchoscopy itself usually lasts about 30 minutes. But the entire procedure, including preparation and recovery time, takes about 4 hours.

Your doctor will give you medicine through an intravenous (IV) line in your bloodstream or by mouth to make you sleepy and relaxed.

Your doctor also will squirt or spray a liquid medicine into your nose and throat to make them numb. This helps prevent coughing and gagging when the bronchoscope (long, thin tube) is inserted.

Then, your doctor will insert the bronchoscope through your nose or mouth and into your airways. As the tube enters your mouth, you may gag a little. Once it enters your throat, that feeling will go away.

Your doctor will look at your vocal cords and airways through the bronchoscope (which has a light and a small camera).

The animation below shows a bronchoscopy procedure. Click the "start" button to play the animation. Written and spoken explanations are provided with each frame. Use the buttons in the lower right corner to pause, restart, or replay the animation, or use the scroll bar below the buttons to move through the frames.

Install flash.

The animation shows how a doctor inserts a bronchoscope into a patient’s nose and passes it down into the airways. This allows the doctor to look inside the airways.

During the procedure, your doctor may take a sample of lung fluid or tissue for further testing. Samples can be taken using:

  • Bronchoalveolar lavage (BRON-ko-al-VE-o-lar la-VAHZH). For this method, your doctor passes a small amount of salt water (a saline solution) through the bronchoscope and into part of your lung. He or she then suctions the salt water back out. The fluid picks up cells and bacteria from the airway, which your doctor can study.
  • Transbronchial lung biopsy. For this method, your doctor inserts forceps into the bronchoscope and takes a small sample of tissue from inside the lung.
  • Transbronchial needle aspiration. For this method, your doctor inserts a needle into the bronchoscope and removes cells from the lymph nodes in your lungs. These nodes are small, bean-shaped masses. They trap bacteria and cancer cells and help fight infection.

You may feel short of breath during bronchoscopy, but enough air is getting to your lungs. Your doctor will check your oxygen level. If the level drops, you'll be given oxygen.

If you have 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. The term "anesthesia" refers to a loss of feeling and awareness. General anesthesia temporarily puts you to sleep.

After the procedure is done, your doctor will remove the bronchoscope.

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Last Updated: February 8, 2012