Bronchoscopy is a procedure during which an examiner uses a viewing tube to evaluate a patient's lung and airways including the voice box and vocal cord, trachea, and many branches of bronchi. Bronchoscopy is usually performed by a pulmonologist or a thoracic surgeon. Although a bronchoscope does not allow for direct viewing and inspection of the lung tissue itself, samples of the lung tissue can be biopsied through the bronchoscope for examination in the laboratory.
Bronchoscopy was first performed in 1897 by the German physician Gustav Killian. Dr. Killian performed rigid bronchoscopy. Rigid bronchoscopy was the only available technique for bronchoscopy until the late 1970's when fiber optic technology was applied successfully to bronchoscopy allowing the scope to be smaller and flexible. During the bronchoscopy, the examiner can see the tissues of the airways either directly by looking through the instrument or by viewing on a TV monitor.
Bronchoscopy can be used for diagnosis or treatment.
Bronchoscopy is used to make a diagnosis most commonly for these conditions:
Bronchoscopy is used for treatment:
Complications of bronchoscopy are relatively rare and most often minor. It is important to realize that all procedures may involve risk or complications from both known and unforeseen causes, because individual patients vary in their anatomy and response to medications. Therefore, there is no guarantee that a procedure can be free of complications. The following is a list of potential complications:
Usually, prior to the procedure patients undergoing bronchoscopy should take nothing by mouth after midnight. Routine medications should be taken with sips of water except for those drugs that can enhance the risk of bleeding. These medications are aspirin products, blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory products such as ibuprofen. (Depending on the medication, these drugs must be discontinued at varying numbers of days before the procedure. Patients must consult their doctors for the appropriate schedule in their particular situation.) The doctor will also want to know of any drug allergies or major drug reactions that the patient may have experienced.
As the patient arrives in the bronchoscopy suite (or if the patient is already in the hospital), an intravenous catheter (IV) will be started for administration of medication and fluid. The patient is then connected to a monitor for continuous monitoring of:
If needed, supplemental oxygen will be supplied either through a ½ inch tube inserted into the nostrils (cannula) or a facemask. Medication is then given through the IV to make the patient feel relaxed and sleepy for the flexible fiber optic bronchoscopy.
Patients will be lying on their back with oxygen supplemented through the mouth or the nose. Prior to the insertion of the flexible bronchoscope, a local anesthesia with topical lidocaine is given in the nose and to the back of the throat. The flexible bronchoscope can be introduced either through the mouth or the nose. Some patients may require a special tube called an endotracheal tube to be inserted through the mouth, passing the vocal cord, and into the trachea to protect and secure the airway. Once the bronchoscope is in the airway, an additional topical anesthetic will be sprayed into the airway for local anesthesia to minimize discomfort and coughing spells.
Flexible bronchoscopy rarely causes any discomfort or pain. Patients may feel the urge to cough because of the sensation of a foreign object in the "windpipe." Again, this feeling can be minimized by pre-procedural medication given for relaxation and local anesthesia with lidocaine. The procedure usually takes between 15 to 60 minutes. If a specific area needs to be more thoroughly evaluated or an abnormality is detected during the procedure, samples can be collected by several methods listed below:
Patients are taken to an observation area for monitoring for one to two hours until any medication given adequately wears off and patients are able to swallow safely. A family member or a friend must take the patient home after the outpatient procedure. Patients are not allowed to drive or operate heavy machinery for the rest of the day because their reflexes and judgment may be impaired. Some patients may cough up dark-brown blood for the next one to two days after the procedure. This is expected and should not be alarming. However, if there is persistent bright red blood in the sputum, the doctor must be consulted immediately. A follow-up visit with the doctor is scheduled to review the laboratory results, which are typically available within one week.
New techniques with additional advancement in endoscopic technology have allowed further diagnostic and therapeutic options, such as: