What Happens During A Bronchoscopy?

Most people are awake during this procedure. You will have medicine to help you relax and to numb your throat. The bronchoscopy itself usually takes about 20 minutes.

This is what usually happens during bronchoscopy:

  • First, you’ll take medicine to help you relax. A nurse will start an IV (intravenous) needle in your arm. The IV allows the doctor to give you extra medicine if you need it during the procedure.
  • The nurse will give you extra oxygen through your nose. He or she will also connect you to machines that monitor your heart, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen in your blood.
  • The doctor will spray a local anesthetic into your mouth or nose, or may inject anesthesia under your chin to numb your voice box. The medication may make you cough for a short while.
  • The doctor will gently slide the thin bronchoscope tube into your mouth and nose. If it goes through your mouth, you’ll hold a plastic mouthpiece (the “bite block”) between your teeth. That keeps you from biting the tube.
  • You might feel a little out of breath as the tube passes your vocal cords. The doctor will stop to let you catch your breath.
  • Don’t talk during the procedure. Talking can make you hoarse and make your throat sore afterward.
  • The doctor will look through the tube into your airways. He or she might use tools inside the tube to collect mucus, cells, or tissue samples (a biopsy) from your lungs or airways. You might feel a slight tug when the tissue is removed.
  • Sometimes the doctor will put a saline solution (that is, salt water) through the bronchoscope, then gently suck it back out. This is called a bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). It helps collect cells that can be used to diagnose your disease. Sometimes lavage is used to remove extra mucus.

If your doctor is using a rigid bronchoscope, you’ll probably receive general anesthesia and will be asleep during the procedure.

If you stayed awake during the bronchoscopy, you’ll have a chance to rest after the procedure.

  • Tell the doctor or nurse if you have chest pain or difficulty breathing.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything until the local anesthesia wears off, because you could choke. It usually takes two to four hours for the gag reflex to come back.

If you received general anesthesia and were asleep for the bronchoscopy:

  • You will stay in the recovery room until you are fully awake and able to move around.
  • If the doctor took a biopsy, you may have a chest x-ray afterward to make sure your lung was not damaged.

Nice To Know

Q: Does bronchoscopy hurt?

A: No one’s going to say bronchoscopy is particularly comfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt. If you’re worried, work out a hand signal with your doctor ahead of time. You can raise your hand to tell him to stop putting in the bronchoscope until you can catch your breath and relax a little.


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