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A bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to view your airways and lungs. This procedure can be used to diagnose or treat a condition of the airways or lungs.

What is a bronchoscopy?

During a bronchoscopy, a doctor inserts a small tube attached to a camera (called a bronchoscope) through your nose or mouth.

This allows the doctor to see your airways and take photographs or videos of them. It also allows them to take a sample of the tissue there, which is known as a biopsy.

The results from a bronchoscopy help the doctor make a diagnosis and plan the right treatment for your condition.

When is a bronchoscopy used?

If you have an abnormal chest X-ray or computerised tomography (CT) scan result, your doctor may ask you to undergo a bronchoscopy to help diagnose or investigate:

  • lung disease, with symptoms such as wheezing, chronic cough, or shortness of breath
  • an infection
  • a tumour
  • fever

You may also have a bronchoscopy to treat an airway problem. This might involve:

Preparing for your bronchoscopy

Don’t eat for 6–12 hours before your bronchoscopy and you’ll need to remove any dentures before the procedure. You should also consult your doctor about any medications you are on, including:

You’ll need to arrange for someone to take you home afterwards.

What's involved with having a bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy is normally performed under mild sedation, so you are awake but feel relaxed and drowsy during the procedure.

Before the procedure, your doctor will give you a local anaesthetic so that you do not feel pain. This is usually a spray or a gargle. You might also be given an injection to make you drowsy.

It might be slightly uncomfortable to have the tube inserted. It will probably be in your airways for 20 minutes or less. You will be able to breathe.

After the bronchoscopy, you will spend some time in recovery waiting for the anaesthetic and sedative to wear off.

For a few days, you might feel an irritation in your throat. But it should go away.

Are bronchoscopies safe?

For most people a bronchoscopy is a safe procedure, but like with any medical test there are some risks, such as:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • difficulty breathing afterwards

In rare cases, you can get a collapsed lung. If this happens, it can be treated immediately by your doctor.

More information

Lung Foundation Australia has information about lung health and a fact sheet about bronchoscopy.

Last reviewed: March 2018

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