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This drawing shows a bronchoscope inserted through the mouth, trachea, and bronchus into the lung; lymph nodes along trachea and bronchi; and cancer in one lung. Inset shows patient lying on a table having a bronchoscopy.

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Bronchoscopy is a medical procedure where a tube is inserted into the airways, usually through the nose or mouth. This allows the practitioner to examine inside a patient's airway for abnormalities such as foreign bodies, bleeding, tumors, or inflammation. The practitioner often takes samples from inside the lungs: biopsies, fluid (bronchoalveolar lavage), or endobronchial brushing. The practitioner may use either a rigid bronchoscope or flexible bronchoscope.


A German, Gustav Killian, performed the first bronchoscopy in 1897. From then until the 1970s, doctors evaluated people’s airways using a rigid bronchoscope.

Rigid Bronchoscopy

A rigid bronchoscope is a straight, hollow, metal tube. Doctors perform rigid bronchoscopy less often today, but it remains the procedure of choice for removing foreign material. Rigid bronchoscopy also becomes useful when bleeding interferes with viewing the examining area.

Flexible Bronchoscopy

A flexible bronchoscope is a long thin tube that contains small clear optical fibers that transmit light images as the tube bends. Its flexibility allows this instrument to reach further into the airway. The procedure can be performed easily and safely under local anesthesia.


Diagnostic Procedures

Therapeutic Procedures

Bronchoscopy - The Procedure

The bronchoscopy is performed in 1 of 3 areas:

One will be given antianxiety and antisecretory medications (to prevent oral secretions from obstructing the view), generally atropine (Atropair, I-Tropine) and morphine (Duramorph, Oramorph, Roxanol), half an hour before the procedure.

During the procedure, doctors provide an agent such as midazolam (Versed) to sedate although one would remain conscious. Lidocaine may also be used to anesthetize the upper airways.

One will be monitored during the procedure with periodic blood pressure checks, continuous ECG monitoring of the heart and oxygen measurement. Monitoring is particularly important when the patient remains conscious during the procedure.

The doctor inserts a flexible bronchoscope through either the nose or mouth either in the sitting or lying down position.

Once the bronchoscope is inserted into the upper airway, the doctor examines the vocal cords. The doctor continues to advance the instrument to the trachea and further down into the bronchus, examining each area as the bronchoscope passes.

If doctors discover an abnormality, they may sample it, using a brush, a needle, or forceps.They also may sample a large number of alveoli. Doctors can obtain a specimen of lung tissue (transbronchial biopsy) often using a real-time x-ray (fluoroscopy).

After the procedure

Although most adults tolerate bronchoscopy well, doctors require that one remains under a brief period of observation.

Nurses watch closely for 2-4 hours following the procedure, usually every 15 minutes. Keep patient in semi-fowler position. Most complications occur early and are readily apparent at the time of the procedure. Assess for respiratory difficulty (stridor and dyspnea resulting from laryngeal edema or laryngospasm). Monitoring continues until the effects of sedative drugs wear off and gag reflex has returned. If one has had a transbronchial biopsy, doctors will take a chest x-ray to rule out any air leakage in the lungs (pneumothorax) after the procedure One will be hospitalized if there occurs any bleeding, air leakage (pneumothorax), or respiratory distress.


Although the rigid bronchoscope can scratch or tear airway or damage the vocal cords, the risk for bronchoscopy is limited. The conditions for which doctors use it are ongoing, life-threatening cardiac problems or severely low oxygen.

Complications from fiberoptic bronchoscopy remain extremely low.

Common complications include either heart and blood vessel problems or excessive bleeding following biopsy. A lung biopsy also may cause leakage of air called pneumothorax. Pneumothorax occurs in less than 1% of cases requiring lung biopsy.


See also

de:Bronchoskopie eu:Bronkoskopia it:Broncoscopia he:ברונכוסקופיה nl:Bronchoscopie sv:Bronkoskopi uk:Бронхоскопія