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What Is Bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee) is a procedure that allows your doctor to look inside your lungs' airways, called the bronchi (BRONG-ki) and bronchioles (BRONG-ke-ols). The airways carry air from the trachea (TRA-ke-ah), or windpipe, to the lungs.

During the procedure, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope into your nose or mouth. The tube is passed down your throat into your airways. If you have a breathing tube, the bronchoscope can be passed through the tube to your airways. You’ll be given medicine to make you relaxed and sleepy during the procedure.

The bronchoscope has a light and small camera that allow your doctor to see your windpipe and airways and take pictures.

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 (AN-es-THE-ze-ah). The term "anesthesia" refers to a loss of feeling and awareness. General anesthesia temporarily puts you to sleep.

Overview

Bronchoscopy can help find the cause of a lung problem. For example, during the procedure, your doctor may see:

  • A tumor
  • Signs of infection
  • Excess mucus in the airways
  • The site of bleeding
  • A blockage (such as a piece of food) in your airway

Your doctor also may take samples of mucus or tissue from your lungs to test in a laboratory.

Sometimes doctors use bronchoscopy to treat lung problems. For example, the procedure might be done to insert a stent in an airway. An airway stent is a small tube that holds the airway open. It might be used if a tumor or other condition blocks the airway.

In children, bronchoscopy most often is used to remove an object blocking an airway. Sometimes it's used to find out what's causing a cough that has lasted for at least a few weeks.

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.

Newer types of bronchoscopy include:

  • Endobronchial (EN-do-BRONG-ke-al) ultrasound. This procedure uses sound waves to create pictures of the insides your airways.
  • Fluorescence (flor-ES-ents) bronchoscopy. This procedure uses fluorescent light instead of white light to look inside your airways.
  • Virtual bronchoscopy. This procedure uses a new method of computed tomography (to-MOG-rah-fee) scan, or CT scan. Virtual bronchoscopy can create detailed pictures of your airways.

Outlook

Bronchoscopy is a safe procedure. Side effects and complications usually are minor. You may feel hoarse and have a sore throat after the procedure. Minor bleeding, infection, and fever also can occur.

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.

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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 www.clinicaltrials.gov.


 
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.