Bronchoscopy (bron-KOS-ko-pee) is a procedure used to look inside the lungs' airways, called the bronchi and bronchioles. The airways carry air from the trachea (TRA-ke-ah), or windpipe, to the lungs.
During the procedure, your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope through your nose (or sometimes your mouth), down your throat, and into the airways. If you have a breathing tube, the bronchoscope can be passed through it to your airways.
At the bronchoscope's tip are a light and a mini-camera, so the doctor can see your windpipe and airways. You will be given medicine to make you relaxed and sleepy during the procedure.
If there's a lot of bleeding in your lungs or a large object stuck in your throat, your doctor may use a bronchoscope with a rigid tube. The rigid tube, which is passed through the mouth, is wider. This allows your doctor to see inside it more easily, treat bleeding, and remove stuck objects.
A rigid bronchoscopy is usually done in a hospital operating room while you're under general anesthesia. Anesthesia is used so you will sleep through the procedure and not feel any pain.
Bronchoscopy is usually done to find the cause of a lung problem. Your doctor may take samples of mucus or tissue from your lungs during the procedure to test in a lab.
Bronchoscopy may show a tumor, signs of an infection, excess mucus in the airways, the site of bleeding, or something blocking the airway, like a piece of food.
Sometimes bronchoscopy is used to treat lung problems. It may be done to insert a stent in an airway. An airway stent is a small tube that holds the airway open. It's used when a tumor or other condition blocks an airway.
In children, the procedure is most often used to remove something blocking the airway. In some cases, it's used to find out what's causing a cough that has lasted for at least a few weeks.
Bronchoscopy is usually a safe procedure. You may be hoarse and have a sore throat after the procedure. There's a slight risk of minor bleeding or developing a fever or pneumonia.
A rare but more serious risk is a pneumothorax (noo-mo-THOR-aks), or collapsed lung. In this condition, air collects in the space around the lungs, which causes them to collapse. This problem is easily treated.
Scientists are studying new methods of bronchoscopy, including virtual bronchoscopy. This is a kind of computed tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan uses special x-ray equipment to take clear, detailed pictures of the inside of your body. During the scan, you lie on a table that slides through the center of a tunnel-shaped x-ray machine. X-ray tubes in the scanner rotate around you and take pictures of your lungs.
Virtual bronchoscopy is still not used often.