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Bronchoscopy under local anaesthetic

Find out about having a bronchoscopy under a local anaesthetic. This test can help to diagnose lung cancer.

A bronchoscopy is a test to look at the inside of the breathing tubes (airways) in your lungs. Your doctor can see any areas that look abnormal and take samples (biopsies) to test.

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 an outpatient or day case procedure in the endoscopy unit.

Preparing for your bronchoscopy

Check your appointment letter to see how to prepare for your bronchoscopy.

You sign a consent form beforehand. This is a good time to make sure you ask the doctor 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

When you arrive at the outpatient department, a nurse might ask you to change into a gown or you might be able to stay in your own clothes. Then your nurse shows you into the test room.

You lie down on the procedure couch.

You might have a sedative to help you relax and make you feel sleepy. Your doctor sprays a local anaesthetic onto the back of your throat.

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 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.

Going home

You can usually go home the same day.

Someone should collect you from the hospital if you have had a sedative. Also, don’t drive until the day after the test if you have had a sedative because you might still be drowsy. 

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

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. Contact your doctor if you haven’t heard anything after this time.

Waiting for test results or for further tests can be very worrying. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

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

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.

Information and help

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