What Is a Bronchoscopy Procedure?

Close up of lung doctor talking over a bronchoscopy procedure with patient.

If you regularly follow our blog, then you already know there are different methods that allow your clinician to diagnose a chronic lung condition. A high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scan, for instance, is used to detect damage to the lungs and airways caused by bronchiectasis, while a regular CT scan or chest x-ray may be used to diagnose COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

A graphic icon of a HRCT scan machineLung function tests (also referred to as pulmonary tests) are also used to check for COPD or asthma, including spirometry and plethysmography. Both procedures help measure the amount of air your lungs can hold and the force at which you can exhale each breath [1].

Your clinician may also perform lung volume testing, which is considered more accurate than a spirometry test [2], as it measures the volume of air inside the lungs while you inhale. Your clinician may also perform a diffusing capacity test, which measures how oxygen enters into your bloodstream. Finally, your clinician may conduct what’s known as an exercise test to help evaluate why you’re experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath [3].

Bronchoscopy 101

Different tests detect different symptoms related to your individual lung condition. Right now, an HRCT scan is the only way to accurately test for bronchiectasis, however, as noted above there are several ways to diagnose other conditions that may be obstructing your airways. One such test is known as a bronchoscopy.

Graphic icon of a pair of lungs on a computer screen.According to the American Lung Association, a bronchoscopy is…”a technique used to look at your air passages with a small camera that is located at the end of a flexible tube. This connects to a video screen for the doctors to view and take photos of your air passages. The tube also has a small channel to collect tissue samples from your lung that can be used in disease diagnosis [4].”

There are two types of tubes (or bronchoscopes) used during this procedure: rigid and flexible. A flexible bronchoscope is more common and can be used to move down into your smaller airways, while a rigid tube is straight and can only view your larger airways [5].

Why Is a Bronchoscopy Procedure Necessary?

This procedure may be used as a follow up exam if, for example, an x-ray or CT scan showed signs of lung damage or a tumor in your lymph nodes [6]. It may also be used to assess blockage in your airways or collect samples of lung tissue or mucus for further testing of a lung disease [7].

A bronchoscopy may also be necessary if your clinician is treating…”a lung problem (interventional bronchoscopy), such as bleeding, an abnormal narrowing of the airway (stricture) or a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) [8].”

Does a Bronchoscopy Hurt?

A bronchoscopy is considered “non-invasive” and is typically performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning you don’t need to spend any time afterward in the hospital for recovery. 

During this procedure, the tube holding the camera is inserted in one of two areas: the mouth or the nose. Patients are given light sedation during the exam that allows them to stay conscious but unable to feel any discomfort from the inserted tube [9].

A graphic icon of a clockHow Long Does a Bronchoscopy Take?

On average, the entire procedure can take as little as 30-45 minutes [10]. 

As a bronchoscopy is typically performed in a hospital setting, the time it takes to complete the entire procedure will depend on each patient’s individual situation and healthcare team.

How Do I Prep for a Bronchoscopy?

Your clinician will recommend that you do not eat or drink anything several hours before your exam. If you take regular medications, you’ll want to talk to your healthcare team to ensure you are able to do so prior to the procedure. 

As you will be using certain medications during the exam, such as anesthesia, to numb your throat, your doctor will ensure it won’t counteract with your other prescriptions.

What to Expect During a Bronchoscopy

Similar to a regular trip to the dentist, patients will need to be laying in a horizontal position with their head propped up during a bronchoscopy. And if you’ve ever had your wisdom teeth removed, you’re probably familiar with having an anesthesiologist in the room to administer the anesthesia via an IV that goes into your arm prior to the procedure. This is the same case with a bronchoscopy. 

As noted before, sedation is prescribed for this procedure, but your clinician may prefer that you were conscious (vs. asleep) during its duration. You and your healthcare team will determine this prior to the exam [11]. 

Just remember that if you are conscious for the bronchoscopy, your healthcare team will work to ensure you are unable to feel any discomfort throughout the duration of the exam.

Following the anesthesia

Your clinician will apply a numbing spray to your mouth or nose, depending on where the tube will be inserted, as well as your throat. This is to prevent you from experiencing a gag reflex. You will also have a suction tube to absorb your saliva, so you will not need to swallow [12].

When you are sedated, your clinician will then insert the tiny bronchoscope through the chosen entry point, which will then travel down into your windpipe and to your lungs.

After the procedure is complete, your clinician will remove the tube carefully. If you are asleep, you will gradually wake up while your healthcare team monitors your vitals. 

After a Bronchoscopy

Following the exam, it may take several hours before the numbness in your throat goes away. Therefore, you’ll want to avoid eating or drinking. After the numbness goes away, you may experience a sore throat, cough, or hoarseness when you speak [13]. 

You’ll want to ask your clinician if there are certain foods or drinks you should avoid, as well.

A graphic icon of a calendarIt’s likely you will need to schedule a follow-up appointment with your clinician to review results and discuss next steps. It’s recommended that during the procedure you have family or a close friend there to help you remember any important instructions your healthcare team provides directly following the exam. 

In addition, as you will be coming out of sedation, you’ll need a friend or loved one to transport you back home following the procedure.

Are There Risks Involved with a Bronchoscopy Procedure?

As with any type of procedure, there is always some risk involved, though a bronchoscopy is considered safe and is performed by clinicians all over the country.

Nevertheless, it’s recommended that you contact your healthcare team immediately, if you’re experiencing any of the these symptoms following your exam:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough that produces blood
  • Lung infection [14]

There may be other signs your healthcare team asks you to look out for, as well. This is another reason why it’s recommended that you bring someone with you, as it helps to have a second person listen and understand all the information. 

Your Source for Lung Health Resources

For more information on chronic lung conditions like bronchiectasis or COPD, stay connected to our blog for helpful articles, how-to tips, and more!

If you’d like to access more information on other types of lung examinations, we encourage you to read our article on HRCT scans for detecting bronchiectasis, as well as our resource on diagnosing COPD.

To learn how SmartVest can help manage symptoms, request an informational packet today and chat with one of our Patient Care Advocates. They are Respiratory Therapists who are ready to answer your questions. Schedule a time to chat or call them directly at 1.855.528.5690.

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Resources

[1] John Hopkins Medicine. “Pulmonary Function Tests.” Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/pulmonary-function-tests

[2]  American Lung Association. “Lung Function Tests.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/lung-function-tests

[3] American Lung Association. “Lung Function Tests.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/lung-function-tests

[4] American Lung Association. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/bronchoscopy

[5] John Hopkins Medicine. “Pulmonary Function Tests.” Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/pulmonary-function-tests

[6] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21471-bronchoscopy

[7] John Hopkins Medicine. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/bronchoscopy

[8] Mayo Clinic. Bronchoscopy: About.” Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/bronchoscopy/about/pac-20384746

[9] American Lung Association. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/bronchoscopy

[10] American Lung Association. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-procedures-and-tests/bronchoscopy

[11] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21471-bronchoscopy

[12] John Hopkins Medicine. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/bronchoscopy

[13] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21471-bronchoscopy

[14] Cleveland Clinic. “Bronchoscopy.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21471-bronchoscopy

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