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Key facts

  • A bronchoscopy is a procedure that lets your doctor see inside your airways and lungs.
  • A bronchoscopy can be done to look for lung disease, an infection or lung cancer.
  • A bronchoscopy is usually done as a day procedure in hospital.

What is a bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy is a procedure that lets your doctor see inside your airways and lungs.

A thin flexible tube with a camera on the end (called a bronchoscope) is put in your nose or mouth. It is then passed through your windpipe into your airways.

A bronchoscopy can be used to diagnose or treat conditions of your airways or lungs.

When is a bronchoscopy needed?

You may have a bronchoscopy if you have symptoms such as:

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend a bronchoscopy if you have had an abnormal chest x-ray or CT scan result.

Bronchoscopy can look for:

Bronchoscopy can also be used to treat an airway problem. This might involve:

How to prepare for your bronchoscopy

A bronchoscopy is usually done as a day procedure in hospital.

If you are having a bronchoscopy, you should not eat or drink for about 6 hours beforehand.

You should ask your doctor about any medicines you are taking, including:

Your doctor will be able to give you instructions if you need to stop your medicines before the procedure.

You will need to arrange for someone to take you home after having a bronchoscopy.

What happens during a bronchoscopy?

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

Before the procedure, your doctor may give you a local anaesthetic spray. This is to numb the back of your nose and throat. You may also be given medicine to reduce the amount of saliva (spit) in your mouth.

Your doctor will put the bronchoscope (thin tube with a light and camera on the end) into your nose or mouth. The tube is then guided down your windpipe to your airways.

The bronchoscope lets your doctor see your airways and take samples of lung tissue (biopsies). They may take samples using a small brush or a needle.

Sometimes fluid may be injected into your airways and sucked back through the bronchoscope. This may help detect cancer cells or an infection in the narrow airways.

Imaging, such as ultrasound or x-ray may be used to guide the bronchoscope.

It might feel slightly uncomfortable to have the tube inserted. The procedure normally takes about 20 minutes. You will be able to breathe during the bronchoscopy.

Recovering from bronchoscopy

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 have a sore throat or lose your voice.

You may also have a slight fever for 1 to 2 days after the procedure.

Possible risks or complications of bronchoscopy

For most people a bronchoscopy is a safe procedure. But there are some risks with bronchoscopy, such as:

  • bleeding
  • infection
  • difficulty breathing afterwards

It is possible to have a pneumothorax after a bronchoscopy. This is when air leaks into the space between one of your lungs and your chest wall. If this happens, it will be treated immediately by your doctor.

Resources and support

You can read more on preparing for surgery here.

Visit the Lung Foundation Australia for more information on lung health and bronchoscopy.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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