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Bronchoscopy, Diagnostic

  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:


Bronchoscopy, Diagnostic


Bronchoscopy is an exam of the airways and lungs. The exam is done with a bronchoscope, a long, thin tube with a camera on the tip. The tube may be flexible or rigid.

Respiratory Pathway

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Reasons for Procedure

The procedure is done to:

  • Check for problems in the airways and lungs such as:
    • Cancer
    • Other disease
    • Infection
    • Blockages or a buildup of mucus
  • Take samples of mucus, fluid, or tissue for testing
  • Check for objects or fluids that were inhaled (aspirated)

Bronchoscopy may also be done to:

  • Remove things from the lungs that should not be there
  • Open a narrow airway
  • Control bleeding
  • Drain a lung abscess (pocket of pus) or remove tissue that is not healthy
  • Remove or treat tumors
  • Place stents to help keep the airways open

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Irritation of the airways or vocal cords
  • Damage to the airways or lungs
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Infection
  • Hypoxemia—damage to tissue from low oxygen
  • Heart attack

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Long term health issues such as diabetes or obesity

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
  • Fasting before the procedure, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from the procedure


The doctor may give:

  • A sedative—you will feel relaxed
  • Local anesthesia—the throat will be numbed

General anesthesia may be used for a rigid bronchoscopy. You will be asleep.

Description of the Procedure

The bronchoscope will be put into the nose or mouth. It will be passed down the throat and into the lungs.

Images will be seen on a nearby monitor. The scope may be used to remove a small tissue sample for biopsy. Things that should not be in the lung, like inhaled food, will also be removed. Sometimes a solution is used to wash an area. This is called a lavage. It will help collect samples of fluid for testing.

How Long Will It Take?

Less than 1 hour

Will It Hurt?

Throat pain is common in the first few days. Medicine and self care can help.

Post-procedure Care

Most can go home after a few hours. It will take the rest of the day to recover.

Problems To Look Out For

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Coughing with more than a teaspoon of blood
  • Severe nausea or vomiting
  • An increase in noisy breathing
  • Pain that you cannot control with medicine

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.





  • Bronchoscopy. Merck Manual website, Professional Edition. Available at:
  • Diaz-Mendoza, J., Peralta, A.R., et al. Rigid bronchoscopy. Semin Respir Crit Care Med, 2018; 39 (6): 674-684.
  • Flexible Airway Endoscopy in Children. American Thoracic Society website. Available at:
  • Lung cancer screening. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
  • Teaching about outpatient bronchohoscopy. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center Plus website. Available at:
  • Tests for lung disease. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.