Bronchoscopy: Procedure, Benefits, Risk & Recovery

Bronchoscopy Diseases: Diagnose, Treatment, Risk, Recovery


Getting a clear view inside the lungs is important for doctors to catch and treat problems early. One way they do this is through a medical test called a bronchoscopy. Let’s discuss what this procedure involves.  

Bronchoscopy – What is it?

A bronchoscopy involves carefully inserting a long, thin tube equipped with a tiny camera down your throat and into the air passages leading to the lungs. This special scope, a bronchoscope, also has a bright light on the end so the doctor can get a good view of the internal structures. 

Most of the time, they’ll use a flexible, bendable bronchoscope that can easily wind around all the curves and bends from your mouth to your lungs. But in certain situations with a lot of bleeding or a stuck object, they might opt for a rigid, straight metal version instead. That kind gets inserted under complete anaesthesia at the hospital since it can’t flex around those tight corners.

Either way, the idea is to move that camera scope gently down the breathing tube so the doctor can directly inspect the voice box, windpipe, and branching airways that distribute air into the lungs. This gives them an up-close, projected view of any potential issues in those areas that could be causing breathing troubles, lingering coughs, or abnormalities spotted on imaging scans.

The bronchoscopy procedure doesn’t just allow for close inspection, though. The doctor can also use that little scope to collect tissue samples, remove mucus blockages, or even deliver medication or treatment.

Why Get a Bronchoscopy?

There are plenty of different reasons why a doctor might recommend this test. Basically, it helps them figure out what’s causing breathing issues or other lung problems by allowing that inside inspection. Some common examples include:

  • Checking for lung diseases like cancer, COPD, infections, etc.
  • Looking at any unusual growths or tumours in the lung area
  • Finding the cause of a chronic, long-lasting cough
  • Locating the source of bleeding from the lungs
  • Spotting if something has gotten stuck in a child’s airways

If an X-ray or CT scan hints at an abnormality, a bronchoscopy gives a much clearer picture. During the test, the doctor can also take small tissue samples (biopsies) from the lungs to examine more closely.

Beyond just diagnosis, bronchoscopy can sometimes be used for treatment, too. The doctor can use tiny tools passed through the scope to:

  • Deliver medication right into the airways
  • Remove mucus plugs or objects blocking the airways
  • Provide laser therapy to treat small tumours
  • Insert a little hollow tube (stent) to prop open a narrowed air passage

The Bronchoscopy Process Step-by-Step

While it might sound a bit uncomfortable, the bronchoscopy procedure itself is actually pretty straightforward for most people. Here’s what the method comprises:

  • Upon arrival, your medical history will be thoroughly discussed. It’s essential to give all the details clearly, as some drugs, like blood thinners, might need to be adjusted beforehand.
  • To keep you relaxed and prevent discomfort, your nose and throat will be numbed with a medicated spray or gel. You’ll also get some sedative medicine through an IV line. 
  • The doctor will then gently insert the bronchoscope into your nose or mouth and guide it down your throat slowly and carefully.
  • As the scope enters the windpipe, the camera will let them see and inspect all the branching airways leading to the lungs. Little puffs of air might be used to obtain a clearer view. 
  • With that up-close view, the doctor can look for any signs of disease, blockages, bleeding or growths. If needed, they can take tissue samples or remove mucus build-up using little tools on the scope.
  • If there’s a blockage, they may put in a hollow stent tube to prop that airway open. Or they could use the scope to deliver concentrated medication right to the problem area.
  • After a thorough inspection and any treatment, the bronchoscope gets slowly pulled back out. The entire process goes on for around 30 to 60 minutes.

For a more advanced look, some doctors may use special upgraded scopes like:

  • “Virtual” bronchoscopy that stitches together CT scan visuals into a 3D airway map
  • Bronchoscopes with a tiny ultrasound probe to see beyond the airway walls
  • Scopes that use special fluorescent lighting to spot pre-cancerous areas

Preparing for Bronchoscope

To make sure your bronchoscopy goes smoothly, here’s what you can do: 

  • Don’t eat or drink anything for about 6-12 hours beforehand as instructed. This prevents food/liquid from getting into your lungs.
  • Make a list of every single medication, vitamin, supplement etc. that you take regularly. Your doctor may recommend stopping certain ones like blood thinners temporarily before the procedure.
  • Have a family member or a friend take you home afterwards. The sedation will make it unsafe for you to drive or return to work right away.

Benefits of a Bronchoscopy

While it may sound uncomfortable, a bronchoscopy is an important diagnostic tool that can:

  • Identify the cause of breathing issues or chronic cough
  • Detect lung diseases, tumours, or infections early
  • Remove airway obstructions like stuck objects
  • Deliver medications directly into the lungs
  • Guide treatment for small tumours using lasers
  • Open up blocked airways by placing stents

Getting this inside view can provide life-saving information and target treatment more precisely.

Understanding the Risks

Like most medical procedures, bronchoscopy does carry some risks that you should be aware of upfront. Your doctor will go over your full medical details to determine if the potential benefits outweigh any elevated risks in your case. Some of the most common mild side effects include:

  • A sore, scratchy throat and hoarseness of voice for a day or two afterwards from irritation
  • Minor bleeding, especially if tissue sampling (biopsies) is performed
  • Low risk of developing a respiratory infection from the scope introduction
  • Temporary breathing difficulties or excessive coughing in some cases

More severe but infrequent risks that require prompt treatment include:

  • Partially collapsing a lung (pneumothorax) if air leaks out from an accidental puncture
  • Severe breathing emergencies like wheezing attacks or respiratory failure
  • Rare chance of triggering a heart issue like abnormal rhythm or heart attack

Certain pre-existing conditions like bleeding disorders or heart/lung diseases can potentially increase these risks. But again, your doctor will discuss all of this thoroughly beforehand.

Recovery after Bronchoscope Procedure

A bronchoscopy is an outpatient procedure, which means you’ll go home the same day. Expect to:

  • Rest for 1-2 hours until the sedation wears off and your throats numbness goes away
  • Have a mildly sore, scratchy throat for a day or two
  • Avoid eating or drinking until your swallowing reflex fully returns
  • Take it easy for 24 hours but resume normal activities after that

Contact your doctor right away if you have worsening symptoms like fever, bleeding, or breathing troubles.


A bronchoscopy gives your doctor a valuable opportunity to thoroughly evaluate the condition of your lungs and airways. While not risk-free, it is a relatively safe procedure that can detect and even treat certain lung issues. Don’t hesitate to get one if your doctor recommends it for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan.