Definition of Bronchoscopy Procedure

Bronchoscopy is a diagnostic procedure in which the doctor uses a flexible, lighted endoscope, inserted through the throat and into the airways under sedation or anesthesia, to view the trachea, bronchi, and other structures of the respiratory tract. The doctor also can watch the lungs in motion, assessing air movement and filling.

Bronchoscopy is an outpatient procedure that takes about an hour. Many people receive mild sedation before the bronchoscopy to help them relax and be more comfortable.

The bronchoscope is a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a tiny camera on the tip. The pulmonologist sprays a topical anesthetic on the back of the throat to block the gag reflex and numb the throat, then inserts the bronchoscope through the mouth (or the nose, with lubrication) and throat into the trachea.

The pulmonologist guides the bronchoscope into the bronchi, which enables examination of the lung to a moderate depth of about four or five branchings of the bronchus. The pulmonologist may use bronchoscopy to obtain tiny tissue samples for biopsy or to perform bronchoalveolar lavage to obtain bronchial and alveolar cell samples. Bronchoscopy may also be therapeutic, allowing the pulmonologist to rinse accumulated mucus and debris from the bronchi.

It is common to feel some discomfort after the topical anesthetic wears off, similar to a sore throat. The discomfort generally does not last more than a day or two. Rarely after a biopsy, bronchoscopy may cause a pneumothorax, a condition in which air gets in the pleural space (a small area around the lung) and the lung collapses. The risks of bronchoscopy for most people are minimal.


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