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What Is the Typical Bronchoscopy Procedure?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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A bronchoscopy procedure is a medical test done to view the airways of the lungs. It may be performed to make a diagnosis of a lung condition or take a sample from the airways. It may also be done to clean out mucus from the lungs or remove a foreign body obstruction in the airway or lungs.

If tumors in the lungs are suspected, a bronchoscopy procedure may be done to remove a tissue sample and do a biopsy. The sample will be analyzed to determine if it is a cancerous or benign tumor. Fluid can also be analyzed during the procedure to test for the presence of cancer cells. A bronchoscopy can also help determine the cause of inflammation in the lungs or control bleeding.

There are two types of bronchoscopes that can be used for the procedure: a flexible bronchoscope or a rigid bronchoscope. The flexible bronchoscope is more comfortable, so patients usually do not require general anesthesia. It is also the best choice for collecting a biopsy sample. A rigid bronchoscope may be necessary in certain instances, such as removing a foreign body stuck in the airway or obtaining a large tissue sample. The rigid scope is less comfortable and using it will usually require general anesthesia.

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During a bronchoscopy procedure in which the patient will be awake, medication will usually be given to help relax the patient. Additional medication will be sprayed into the mouth and nose to help numb the area and prevent discomfort. The scope will be inserted through either the mouth or nose.

Once the scope is inserted into the airway, the physician will look through the lens and view the airways. If the bronchoscopy procedure is being done to remove an obstruction, forceps will be on the end of the scope to remove the foreign body. If the procedure is being done to obtain a tissue sample, a brush will be on the end of the scope to scrape a tissue sample.

The procedure is usually completed in an hour or less. Patients may be sleepy for a few hours. This is due to the anesthesia that helps the patient relax. Some people may have a sore throat and hoarseness for a few days after the bronchoscopy procedure.

As with other medical tests, there are risks with a bronchoscopy. An infection can develop. Bleeding can develop, especially if a tissue sample was removed. Although not common, spasms of the airway may occur, which can interfere with breathing. Oxygen levels can also decrease.

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