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Bronchoscopy

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Bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to look at your airway through a thin viewing instrument called a bronchoscope. During a bronchoscopy, your doctor will examine your throat, larynx , trachea , and lower airways.

Bronchoscopy may be done to diagnose problems with the airway or to treat problems such as an object or growth in the airway.

Why It Is Done

Bronchoscopy may be used to:

  • Identify the cause of airway problems, such as bleeding, difficulty breathing, or a long-term (chronic) cough.
  • Take tissue samples when other tests, such as a chest X-ray or CT scan, show problems with the lung.
  • Diagnose lung diseases by collecting tissue or mucus (sputum) samples for examination.
  • Diagnose and determine the extent of lung cancer.
  • Remove objects blocking the airway.
  • Evaluate and treat growths in the airway.
  • Control bleeding.

How It Is Done

You may be given some medicines before the procedure to dry up the secretions in your mouth and airways.

You may be asked to remove dentures, eyeglasses or contact lenses, hearing aids, wigs, makeup, and jewelry before the bronchoscopy procedure. You will empty your bladder before the procedure. You will need to take off all or most of your clothes (you may be allowed to keep on your underwear if it does not interfere with the procedure). You will be given a cloth or paper covering to use during the procedure.

The procedure is done by a pulmonologist and an assistant. Your heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen level will be checked during the procedure.

A chest X-ray may be done before and after the bronchoscopy.

Recovery after bronchoscopy

Bronchoscopy by either procedure usually takes between 30 to 60 minutes. You will be in recovery for 2 to 3 hours after the procedure. Following the procedure:

  • Do not eat or drink anything for about 2 hours, until you are able to swallow without choking. After that, you may resume your normal diet, starting with sips of water.
  • Spit out your saliva until you are able to swallow without choking.
  • Do not smoke for at least 24 hours.

How It Feels

If you have general anesthesia, you will feel nothing during the procedure. Oxygen is usually given through a small tube placed in your nose if you are awake during the procedure.

You may be able to feel pressure in your airway as the bronchoscope is moved from place to place. You may gag or cough during bronchoscopy. Your airway will not be blocked, but if you feel discomfort let your doctor know.

After the procedure, you may feel tired for a day or so and have general muscle aches. If a local anesthetic is used, you may have a bitter taste in your mouth. Your mouth may feel very dry for several hours after the procedure. You may also have a sore throat and some hoarseness for a few days. Sucking on throat lozenges or gargling with warm salt water may help soothe your sore throat.

If a biopsy was taken, it is normal to spit up a small amount of blood after the procedure.

Risks

Bronchoscopy is generally a safe procedure. Although complications are rare, your doctor will discuss any risks with you. Complications that may occur include:

  • Spasms of the bronchial tubes, which can impair breathing.
  • Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias).
  • Infections, such as pneumonia. These usually can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Ongoing hoarseness.

If a biopsy was done during bronchoscopy, complications that may occur include:

  • A tear in the lung from the biopsy forceps used to collect a tissue sample. This will allow air to flow into the pleural space, producing a partial collapse of the lung (pneumothorax).
  • Bleeding caused by the biopsy forceps used to collect the tissue.
  • An infection from the biopsy procedure.
  • A very small chance of death.

After the procedure

Call your doctor immediately if you:

  • #Cough up more than 2 Tbsp of blood.
  • Have difficulty breathing.
  • Have a fever for more than 24 hours. A mild fever [lower than 100 F] may be present right after the procedure, but this is not a concern.

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • A problem that limits your ability to extend your neck.
  • A biopsy sample that is too small for a diagnosis. Also, a biopsy collects tissue from such a small area, so there is a chance that a cancer may be missed.

What To Think About

  • Before a final diagnosis is made, the results of a bronchoscopy will be considered along with your medical history, physical examination, and the results of other tests including a chest X-ray or a computed tomography (CT) scan. A lung biopsy may be needed when all of these other results are inconclusive. For more information, see the medical tests Chest X-ray, CT Scan of the Body, and Lung Biopsy.
  • A needle biopsy with a CT scan is commonly used because it can diagnose many lung problems. A bronchoscopy may be a better option when the problem is close to the airway. Your doctor will determine the best method for you.
  • Virtual bronchoscopy with the use of a CT scan is a very new procedure that is being studied to determine if it can be used effectively.