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What To Expect During Bronchoscopy

Your doctor will do the bronchoscopy in an exam room at a hospital or special clinic. The procedure usually lasts about 30 minutes. But the entire process, 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. The medicine will make you relaxed and sleepy.  

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

Next, your doctor will insert the bronchoscope through your nose or mouth, down your throat, 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.

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 saline solution (salt water) 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 tissue sample 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 infections.

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.

Newer Types of Bronchoscopy

Researchers are studying new types of flexible bronchoscopy. They might make it easier to detect tumors and other lung problems, especially in the lungs’ small airways. These procedures also might make it easier to take fluid and tissue samples from your lungs.

Endobronchial Ultrasound

This procedure is done the same way as a standard flexible bronchoscopy. However, an ultrasound probe is attached to the end of the flexible tube. The probe uses sound waves to create pictures of your lungs. Your doctor can see these pictures on a computer screen.

Fluorescence Bronchoscopy

This procedure also is done the same way as a standard flexible bronchoscopy. However, a fluorescent light is attached to the bronchoscope instead of a white light. Under fluorescent light, tiny tumors look dark red, and healthy tissue looks green.

During the test, your doctor can remove cells from the lymph nodes in your lungs for testing.

Virtual Bronchoscopy

This procedure uses a new method of computed tomography (CT) scan to look inside your lungs. Virtual bronchoscopy uses special x rays to create detailed pictures of your lungs’ airways. A bronchoscope is not used for this procedure.

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 and airways.

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Bronchoscopy Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Bronchoscopy, visit

February 08, 2012 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.