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What is a bronchoscopy?

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

During a bronchoscopy, a doctor inserts a thin tube attached with a light and a camera on the end (called a bronchoscope) through the nose or mouth.

This allows the doctor to see the 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.

When is a bronchoscopy used?

You may have a bronchoscopy if you have symptoms such as wheezing, chronic cough, coughing up blood or shortness of breath. The procedure is also used if you have had a collapsed lung several times, or if you have an abnormal chest x-ray or computerised tomography (CT) scan result.

Bronchoscopy can look for:

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

Preparing for your bronchoscopy

If you are having a bronchoscopy, you should not eat for 6–12 hours before the procedure. You will need to remove any dentures. 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 the 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.

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

Last reviewed: April 2021

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