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What You Need to Know about a Bronchoscopy Procedure

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A rigid bronchoscopy procedure allows your physician to view and examine your airways. This is accomplished when a trained specialist inserts a bronchoscope through either your nose or mouth and threads it down to reach your lungs. The bronchoscope is made using a flexible fiber-optic material and has a light source and camera on the end. Most are compatible with color video, which aids doctors in identifying their findings.

Reasons for a Bronchoscopy

Bronchoscopy helps your doctor get an inside view of your respiratory system. This includes your larynx, trachea, and the small airways of your lungs. With a view of the respiratory system, your doctor can then accurately diagnose:

  • Lung disease
  • Tumors
  • A chronic cough
  • Infection

Often, doctors won’t order a bronchoscopy without first having X-rays or a CT scan. When X-rays or CT scan results come back with an indication of an infection, tumor or collapsed lung, the next step may be a bronchoscopy.

Aside from helping to diagnose respiratory system problems, bronchoscopy can be used to treat conditions as well. In some cases, a bronchoscopy provides your doctor with a direct method to deliver medication to your lungs or remove foreign objects that may be lodged in your airway.

What You Can Expect During a Bronchoscopy Procedure

When you go in for a bronchoscopy procedure, your doctor will apply a local anesthetic spray to your nose and throat. In addition, you’ll most likely receive a sedative that will help you remain relaxed throughout the procedure. With a sedative, you’ll remain awake the entire time but will be drowsy. You’ll likely receive oxygen for the procedure as well.

Leading up to the procedure, you’ll need to avoid eating or drinking anything for six to twelve hours. Be sure to check with your doctor for other requirements pre-procedure. Also, bring someone along to drive you home following your procedure.

During the procedure, your doctor will insert the bronchoscope in through your nose. Once inside, it will pass down from your nose and through your throat, until it reaches the bronchi—the airways in your lungs. For patients that need tissues samples, small brushes or needles may be attached to the end allowing the physician to remove tissue samples from the lungs. Cases where cells need to be collected, doctors will perform a process called bronchial washing. This is where a saline solution is sprayed over the surface of the airways and the cells that are washed off the surface are collected and inspected under a microscope.

Risk of Bronchoscopy

Bronchoscopy is a relatively safe procedure. However, it is still a medical procedure and there is always risk involved. Some of the risk associated with a bronchoscopy may include:

  • Bleeding, especially if a biopsy is done
  • Infection
  • Trouble breathing
  • Low blood oxygen levels

It is imperative that you contact your doctor right away if you experience any of the following after your procedure:

  • Fever
  • Coughing up blood
  • Trouble breathing

These are all an indication of complication that requires medical attention right away.

Recovery After a Bronchoscopy

Following a bronchoscopy procedure, that typically only last thirty minutes, patients will need to remain in the hospital for another couple of hours due to the sedation. This is to monitor patients and wait for normal feeling to return to the throat. Additionally, medical personnel will continue to monitor your breathing and blood pressure during recovery. Because your throat is numbed for the rigid bronchoscopy, you will not be able to eat or drink anything until the numbness wears off. It can take up to two hours for the numbness to wear off. In the days following the procedure, you may experience a sore or scratchy throat. Some also complain of being hoarse. Both of which are normal, and should clear up within a couple of days without medication or treatment.