A bronchoscopy (bronch) can be done to see the airways and obtain samples of mucus or tissue from
within the lungs. The doctor places a thin tube or “scope” through the patient’s nose, mouth, or
through a pre-existing breathing tube and into the lungs. The scope displays pictures on a video screen
at the bedside. Before this is done, patients are given drugs to treat pain and to make them sleepy; this
process is called moderate sedation.
There are common reasons for having a bronchoscopy. They include:
ξ Increased secretions and decreased oxygen levels – Extra fluid, mucus or aspirated material in
the lungs makes it hard for the body to absorb oxygen. This leads to lower oxygen levels in the
body. During a bronch this extra material can be removed. This may help the body to return to
more normal oxygen levels.
ξ Lung collapse – When a lung repeatedly collapses, there is often something blocking the airway.
A bronch can locate the blockage within the lung and remove it. This blockage could be mucus or
a foreign object such as a peanut.
ξ Bleeding – A scope can be used to find out the cause of the bleeding. For instance, a tumor may
be causing the bleeding. In this case, a piece of the tumor can be collected during the bronch and
sent to the lab for further study.
ξ A lung spot – If the doctor suspects a tumor, he or she may use the scope to biopsy the lung spot.
ξ Infections – Certain infections are best picked up by using bronchoscopy. Samples from particular
areas of the lung are sent to the lab to try to find out the exact cause of the infection. This is
common for patients on ventilators and those with weakened immune systems.
As with any procedure, there are risks. Some of the risks include:
ξ Pain and coughing – As the scope is inserted, it is normal to cough and feel pain. Most often,
patients are given drugs to relieve the pain, reduce the coughing, and make them feel relaxed and
ξ Lung leak or collapse – Patients needing a bronch often have lungs that are already inflamed or
diseased. Therefore, there is a greater risk of causing a lung leak. That leak can lead to lung
collapse. Lung leak or collapse is not common, but is more likely when a biopsy is done. If a leak
were to occur, the doctor would likely place a chest tube through the chest wall to relieve the air.
ξ Decreased oxygen – Oxygen levels may decrease during a bronchoscopy. The scope can block air
flow. Also, fluid used to “wash” out the lung can briefly drop oxygen levels. Nurses and doctors
watch these levels closely and give extra oxygen as needed.
ξ Bleeding – Bleeding can occur even when a biopsy is done the correct way or if a tumor is nicked.
If this happens, the bleeding is often minor and stops on its own. Rarely, bleeding can lead to
severe breathing problems requiring surgery.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you have any
questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This is not medical
advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are
different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using this information. If you have an
emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved.
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