Bronchoscopy is a procedure that looks inside the lung airways. It involves inserting a bronchoscope tube, with its light and small camera, through your nose or mouth, down your throat into your trachea, or windpipe, and to the bronchi and bronchioles of your lungs. This procedure is used to find the cause of a lung problem. It can detect tumors, signs of infection, excess mucus in the airways, bleeding, or blockages in the lungs. It also can allow your doctor to take samples of mucus or tissue for other laboratory tests, as well as to insert airway stents, or small tubes, to keep your airway open to treat some lung problems.
The procedure is performed using a flexible bronchoscope or a rigid bronchoscope. Flexible bronchoscopy is more common than rigid bronchoscopy, and flexible bronchoscopy usually does not require general anesthesia. Before the procedure, you will be given medicine to relax you. A liquid medicine also will be given to numb your nose and throat. If you have low blood oxygen levels during the procedure, you will be treated with oxygen therapy. If you have a lot of bleeding in your lungs or a large object is stuck in your airway, you may require rigid bronchoscopy in a hospital operating room under general anesthesia.
After the procedure, you will be monitored to make sure you don’t have complications. You may experience a sore throat, cough, or hoarseness that will go away with time. If you had the procedure as an outpatient, you likely will be able to go home after a few hours, but you will need a ride home because of the medicines or anesthesia you received. You will need to follow up with your doctor after the procedure to get your results.
Bronchoscopy is usually safe, but there is a small risk for fever, minor bleeding, or pneumonia. Pneumothorax, or collapsed lung, is a rare but serious side effect that can be treated. Your doctor may do a chest x ray after the procedure to check for lung problems.
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The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) leads or sponsors many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders.