Bronchoscopy is a procedure used to look inside the lungs’ airways, or bronchi and bronchioles, which carry air from the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs. It is usually done to find the cause of a lung problem, and to take samples of mucus or tissue to be analyzed in the laboratory.
If your doctor feels that a bronchoscopy is in order, he/she will explain its purpose, how it is performed and what risk factors may be involved. At this time, you should address any questions or concerns you might have regarding the test. While bronchoscopy is considered a safe procedure, you will be asked to sign a consent form, so it is important to have a complete understanding and comfort level with your doctor as to what will transpire.
Before a bronchoscopy procedure begins, you will be given a sedative that will make you relaxed and sleepy. Your doctor will then pass a thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope through your nose or mouth, down your throat and into your airways. The bronchoscope has a light and a small camera that allows your doctor to visually assess your airways and windpipe and to take pictures. Under certain conditions, the doctor may use a rigid tube which is passed through the mouth. This procedure is done in a hospital operating room under general anesthesia.
The bronchoscopy procedure itself normally lasts about 30 minutes, but including preparation and recovery times, it may be about four hours. Once the procedure begins, your doctor will look at your vocal cords and airways, and may take a sample of lung fluid or tissue for further testing. This can be accomplished using the following techniques:
- Bronchoalveolar lavage. In this method, your doctor passes a small amount of saline solution into part of your lung, and then suctions it back out. The fluid picks up cells from the airways which can then be studied.
- Transbronchial lung biopsy. In this method, your doctor inserts forceps into the bronchoscope and takes a small tissue sample from inside your lung.
- Transbronchial needle aspiration. In this method, your doctor inserts a needle into the bronchoscope and removes cells from lymph nodes in your lung.
After your bronchoscopy, you will need a few hours to recover; longer if a rigid tube was used. If your doctor took a tissue sample, you may have a chest x-ray to check for bleeding or a pneumothorax (air or gas that builds in the pleural space). When you are ready to go home, your doctor will advise you as to when the results of your procedure might be available, and when you can resume your normal activities. Once the lab results have been received, your doctor will decide whether any further tests are necessary, or how to proceed with treatment, if appropriate.
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