Bronchoscopy shows what’s happening in your airways

Bronchoscopy is a procedure to look directly at the airways in the lungs through a thin, lighted tube (bronchoscope). The bronchoscope is put in the nose or mouth, moved down the throat and trachea (windpipe), and into the airways. A health care provider can then see the voice box (larynx), trachea, large airways to the lungs (bronchi), and smaller branches of the bronchi (bronchioles).

Types of bronchoscope

There are two types of bronchoscope: flexible and rigid. Both types come in different widths.

A rigid bronchoscope is a straight tube. It’s only used to view the larger airways. It may be used within the bronchi to:

  • Remove a large amount of secretions or blood
  • Control bleeding
  • Remove foreign objects
  • Remove diseased tissue (lesions)

A flexible bronchoscope is used more often. Unlike the rigid scope, it can be moved down into the smaller airways (bronchioles). The flexible bronchoscope may be used to:

  • Give oxygen
  • Suction out secretions
  • Take tissue samples (biopsy)
  • Put medicine into the lungs
  • Give laser therapy

Reasons you might need bronchoscopy

A bronchoscopy may be done to diagnose and treat lung problems such as:

  • Tumors or bronchial cancer
  • Airway blockage (obstruction)
  • Narrowed areas in airways (strictures)
  • Inflammation and infections such as tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia, and fungal or parasitic lung infections
  • Interstitial pulmonary disease
  • Causes of a persistent cough
  • Causes of coughing up blood
  • Spots seen on chest X-rays
  • Vocal cord paralysis

Diagnostic procedures or treatments that are done with bronchoscopy include:

  • Biopsy of tissue
  • Collection of sputum
  • Fluid put into the lungs and then removed (bronchoalveolar lavage or BAL) to diagnose lung disorders
  • Removal of secretions, blood, mucus plugs, or growths (polyps) to clear airways
  • Control of bleeding in the bronchi
  • Removing foreign objects or other blockages
  • Laser therapy or radiation treatment for bronchial tumors
  • Placement of a small tube (stent) to keep an airway open tent placement
  • Drainage of an area of pus (abscess)

Your health care provider may also have other reasons to advise a bronchoscopy.