Decorative image

Bronchoscopy

This test looks at the inside of the breathing tubes in your lungs (the airways).

Your doctor puts a narrow, flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your windpipe (trachea) and into your airways. The tube has a light at the tip and an eye piece so they can see the lining of the airways.

Diagram showing a bronchoscopy

You normally have this as a day case procedure in the endoscopy unit. The test takes up to 30 minutes.

Preparing for your test

You have the test under local anaesthetic or general anaesthetic. Check your appointment letter to see how to prepare for your bronchoscopy.

Take your usual medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise. If you take medicines to thin your blood such as warfarin, you need to stop this before your bronchoscopy. Your doctor will tell you when to stop taking it.

You won't be able to eat or drink for several hours beforehand. Your appointment letter will let you know when you need to stop eating and drinking.

At the hospital

When you arrive at the hospital, your nurse gets you ready for the test. They might ask you to change into a gown. They ask you some questions about your medical history and check when you last ate and drank. You can ask any questions you might have.

Your doctor or nurse explains the procedure and gets you to sign the consent form, if you have not already done so at a previous appointment.

You also meet the anaesthetist, if you are having a general anaesthetic. They make sure you are fit enough for the anaesthetic.

When everything is ready, your nurse takes you through to the bronchoscopy room and asks you to lie down on the couch.

Local anaesthetic

Most people have this test under local anaesthetic. Your doctor sprays the back of your throat with local anaesthetic to numb the area. They may also put local anaesthetic gel into your nose.

You might have a drug to make you drowsy (a sedative). Your doctor injects this drug into a small tube (cannula) in the back of your hand. The sedative makes you more relaxed and you may not remember much of the test afterwards.

Having the bronchoscopy

Your doctor puts the bronchoscope into your mouth and down your airway. This is a bit uncomfortable but it doesn't last long. You can breathe normally.

Your doctor then looks for anything abnormal and can take tissue samples (biopsies) to test. They can also take photographs of the inside of your airways. These are kept in your medical records.

Your nurse checks your oxygen levels and heart rate using a clip on your finger.

After your test

After local anaesthetic

You won't be able to eat or drink until the local anaesthetic wears off. This can take an hour or two. Your throat is too numb to swallow safely at first.

If you had sedation, you can rest until you are fully awake. Your nurse will keep an eye on you.

After general anaesthetic

You usually wake up in the recovery room. You have an oxygen mask on while you are recovering. Your nurse will regularly check your blood pressure, heart rate (pulse), temperature, breathing rate and oxygen levels.

Once you are well enough, you go back to the day unit or a ward. You can usually start drinking and eating once you are fully awake, as long as you don't feel sick.

Going home

You usually go home the same day. Some people may need to stay overnight.

You can't drive for a day or two after having a sedative or general anaesthetic. So you need someone to collect you from hospital and stay with you overnight. Check with your nurse exactly how long you should wait before you can drive again.

Take things easy for a day or two. You might have a sore throat or nose for a couple of days.

Possible risks

A bronchoscopy is a safe procedure, but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards. Your doctors will make sure the benefits of having a bronchoscopy outweigh these possible risks.

Bleeding

You might see a small amount of blood in your spit after the test. Let your doctor or nurse know if this doesn’t go away or gets worse.

Chest infection

See your GP straight away if your phlegm (sputum) changes colour, you start feeling more breathless or you have a temperature.

Needing extra oxygen

You might need oxygen through a mask for some time after the bronchoscopy. If you normally have oxygen at home you might need to have more than usual for a little while.

A collapsed lung (pneumothorax)

Air can collect in the space around the lung and make it collapse, but this is rare. Contact a doctor if you become short of breath or have chest pain. You have a tube put into the lung to remove the air.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 to 2 weeks. The doctor who arranged your test gives them to you. Contact them if you haven't heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Waiting for results can be an anxious time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse who you can speak to for information and support if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.