A bronchoscopy is done to see the airways and obtain samples of mucus or tissue from within the lungs. The doctor places a thin tube or “scope” through a pre-existing breathing tube into the lungs to get a better view of the airways. The scope then carries pictures back to a video screen or camera. Before this is done, patients are given medications for pain and to make them sleepy.
There are common reasons for having a bronchoscopy. They include:
- Secretions– Extra fluid, mucus or other material in the lungs makes it hard for the body to absorb oxygen. This leads to lower oxygen levels in the body. During a bronchoscopy this material can be removed. This helps the body to return to more normal levels.
- Lung collapse – When lungs collapse there is often something blocking the airway. A bronchoscopy can locate the blockage within the lung and remove it. This blockage could be mucus or a foreign object such as a peanut.
- Infections – Certain infections are best picked up by using bronchoscopy. Mucus samples from the airways are obtained and then sent to the lab where cultures are done.
As with any procedure, there are risks. Some of the risks include:
- Pain and coughing – As the scope is inserted, it is normal to cough. Patients are given drugs to relieve the pain, reduce the coughing, and make them feel relaxed and sleepy.
- Lung leak or collapse – Patients needing a bronchoscopy often have lungs that are already inflamed or diseased. Therefore, there is a risk of causing a lung leak. That leak can lead to lung collapse. Lung leak or collapse is not common, but if a leak were to occur, the doctor would likely place a chest tube through the chest wall to relieve the air.
- Decreased oxygen – Oxygen levels may fall during a bronchoscopy. The scope can block air flow causing the levels to fall. Also, fluid used to “wash” out the lung can briefly drop levels. Nurses and doctors watch these levels closely and give extra oxygen, if needed.
- Bleeding – Bleeding can rarely occur. Rarely, bleeding can lead to severe breathing problems requiring surgery.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 09/18/2012
Copyright © 09/18/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6723
Print Health Fact For You