Tube to keep the airway open (airway stent)

If your airway is partly blocked by a lung cancer it can make it hard to breathe. Your doctor might suggest that you have a tube called a stent put into the airway to keep it open. This can help you to breathe more easily.

You normally have this under local anaesthetic as an outpatient or day case procedure in the endoscopy unit.

Your doctor puts the stent in place using a procedure called a bronchoscopy. They put a narrow, flexible tube called a bronchoscope down your windpipe (trachea) and into your airways. 

Preparing for your bronchoscopy

You sign a consent form beforehand. This is a good time to make sure you ask the doctor or nurse any questions you have.

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

Before your bronchoscopy

You might need to change into a gown or you might be able to stay in your own clothes. Your nurse takes you into the endoscopy room.

You lie down on the procedure couch.

You might have a sedative into your bloodstream through a small tube in the back of your hand. This helps you to relax and makes you feel sleepy.

Your doctor sprays a local anaesthetic onto the back of your throat.

Putting in the stent

Your doctor puts a long, thin, flexible tube called a bronchoscope into your mouth and down your airway. This is a bit uncomfortable.

Diagram showing a bronchoscopy

When the bronchoscope tube is in the right place, the doctor pushes the stent down the bronchoscope. It is a folded up wire mesh tube. As the stent comes out of the end of the tube, it opens up and pushes the walls of the airway open.

Diagram showing an airway stent

After your bronchoscopy

You won’t be able to eat or drink anything until the local anaesthetic wears off. Your throat is too numb to swallow safely at first. This usually passes off after about an hour.

You should be able to get changed into your own clothes once you feel less sleepy.

You can usually go home the same day. Someone should collect you from the hospital. Don’t drive until the day after the test because you might still be drowsy from the sedative. 

You need to take things easy for a day or so. You might have a sore throat for a couple of days.

Possible risks after having an airway stent

Having an airway stent is a very safe procedure but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems afterwards.

The possible risks include:

  • A chest infection – see your GP straight away if your phlegm (sputum) changes colour, you start feeling more breathless or you feel as though 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 while.
  • A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) – air or gas can collect in the space around the lung and make it collapse but this is rare. Contact a doctor if you get breathless or have chest pain. You have a tube put into the lung to remove the air.
  • The stent moving and blocking the airway but this is very rare – contact your doctor or nurse straight away if you suddenly feel very breathless.

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