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Bronchoscopy is a diagnostic test for viewing the airways of the lungs (bronchi and bronchioles) with the help of a thin tube-like device known as the bronchoscope.

Why is the test performed?

It’s basically a test for determining complications in lungs and its air passages. It can detect tumours, blockages and mucus build up in airways and also infections responsible for chronic cough, bleeding, breathing troubles, etc.

Through bronchoscopy, spread of lung cancer can be determined, mucus sample can be extracted for further laboratory testing, airways can be dilated (stenting) or cleaned and blocked airways (by external objects) can also be treated.

What are the techniques of bronchoscopy?

There are two techniques of bronchoscopy depending on the type of bronchoscope used. They are:

Flexible bronchoscopy- A long thing flexible tube is passed down into the airways via the nose or the mouth. Smaller bronchioles can be distinctly viewed. Anesthesia is not required in this technique.  

Rigid bronchoscopy: It is a straight, hollow, metal lighted tube capable of visualizing only large air passages and is performed under general anesthesia.

The advanced techniques of bronchoscopy including virtual bronchoscopy, endobronchial ultrasound and fluouresence bronchoscopy offer better detailing of the airways and their problems.  

How to prepare for bronchoscopy?

  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, taking any drugs or supplements and if you have a medical condition. You doctor will suggest a modification.
  • You will be asked to stop eating or drinking 6-12 hours before the test and also to urinate before initiating the test.
  • You will be asked to remove eye glasses, hearing aids, jewellery, and any other things that might interfere or make you uncomfortable during the test.
  • Usually doctors perform a chest x ray before the test.

What happens during the test?

The procedure that your doctor will be applying will depend on the condition that is getting treated. You will be lying on your back with your neck supported by a pillow.

You may be given a local anesthesia to relax your throat muscles. This saves you from coughing and gag reflex. As the tube passes through the air pipes, you can sense mild pressure.

Your doctor might clean your airways with saline solution to get better picture of the airways.

Since you will be under sedation while undergoing rigid bronchoscopy, you won’t be sensing any discomfort. An intravenous (IV) line may be inserted in your arm or hand. Care will be taken to ensure you can breathe normally.

What to expect after the test?

It takes 30-60 minutes for completion. Your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing will be monitored before discharging from the hospital.

  • You will be strictly asked not to drink or eat anything until the throat reflex has returned
  • Try to spit after the procedure without choking
  • Doctors will ask you to get back to normal diet; initiating with water
  • Your throat may pain and itch and voice may be hoarse for few days
  • Make sure someone accompanies you to home
  • You can resume normal activities within 24 hours

Your follow up appointments will be scheduled but make sure to notify your doctor on experiencing fever, choking or breathing difficulty.

Are there any risks of bronchoscopy?

Your doctor will perform the technique with extreme precision. However, since it is an invasive procedure some risks involved could be bleeding, infection, bronchial puncture and collapsing of lungs due to accidental trapping of air.

Bronchoscopy is a successful medical technique to solve a wide range of respiratory complications. Make sure you follow the post operative advices to recover quickly.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 29, 2015