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Rigid vs. Flexible Bronchoscopy: What's the Difference?

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If the upper respiratory system needs to be viewed in greater detail, a common procedure that's performed is a bronchoscopy. This endoscopic technique allows for a visual examination of airways for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. A special tube called a bronchoscope is inserted into a patient's mouth or nose to perform either a rigid bronchoscopy or a flexible bronchoscopy. Each approach to this procedure is done for different reasons.

Rigid Bronchoscopy

This type of bronchoscopy is normally performed when a foreign object in the airway needs to be safely recovered. The procedure may also be performed to evaluate patients experiencing a massive hemoptysis (blood that's coughed up) due to an obstruction.

A rigid bronchoscope has a larger inside space (lumen) than a flexible bronchoscope. This larger space provides enough room for a doctor or surgeon to perform procedures involving the use of special instruments or needles. With an electrocautery, for instance, a heated instrument is inserted via the scope to seal tissues and stop bleeding.

Flexible Bronchoscopy

A flexible bronchoscopy is performed via a thinner and longer version of a rigid bronchoscope with a fiber-optic system that includes a lens and an eyepiece. The tube can be connected to a video camera to allow the doctor performing a flexible bronchoscopy to view the airway on a monitor. Images produced can also be recorded and enhanced.

A flexible bronchoscope has a hand-piece and lever so the instrument can be properly positioned and moved to view specific parts of the airway. Most flexible scopes have an additional channel to insert instruments or perform suctioning. Flexible scopes aren't as wide as rigid scopes, which sometimes allows for better manipulation and patient comfort.

Before, During, and After the Procedure

Both procedures involve the use of numbing medication to improve patient comfort as the scope is inserted. A flexible bronchoscope is inserted when the patient is sitting or lying down. It can usually be done with a local anesthetic. A rigid bronchoscopy is normally done under general anesthesia delivered via a device that's connected directly to the scope. Most patients are able to return to normal activities shortly after the procedure is completed.

In order to perform a rigid or flexible bronchoscopy, top-quality equipment that can stand up to repeated use is necessary. A cost-effective way to save on bronchoscopes and similar pieces of equipment is to explore selections available from trusted online distributors like the Medical Device Store. The listed equipment has typically been gently-used and carefully inspected to ensure that everything is operational. New items from manufacturer surpluses are also available.