Find out what a bronchoscopy is and what happens after

What is a bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy is a test used to look inside your lungs. A thin, flexible tube called a fibre-optic bronchoscope is put through your nose or mouth, down your windpipe and into your lungs. It has a light and a very small camera at one end to help see into your airways.

A bronchoscopy will be used to see if there are any problems inside your lungs and to take samples from your lungs for testing.

What’s it used for?

Healthcare professionals may use a bronchoscopy to:

  • Wash out an area of the lungs with salty water (bronchial washing). The water is then tested to find out if there’s inflammation, an infection, or even cancer cells.
  • Take small tissue samples. This is called a biopsy. 
  • Take samples from glands (lymph nodes) in the lung using tiny needles. This is called transbronchial needle aspiration. 

How can I prepare for a bronchoscopy?

You’ll get a letter from the hospital telling you how to prepare for your bronchoscopy. You need to avoid all food and drink. If you smoke, you’ll be asked to stop smoking for a few hours before the test. You may also need to stop taking certain medications. Your letter will give more detailed instructions. Read it carefully.

Make sure you have someone who can take care of you after the test. You will need someone to take you home because you may have been given medication to make you sleepy. You won’t be able to drive or operate machinery for 24 hours afterwards. 

What happens during a bronchoscopy?

The medical team doing the bronchoscopy will explain to you why they’re doing it and what will happen. They’ll ask you to fill in a consent form. Ask them about any concerns you have and let them know if you’re worried. Medication can be adjusted to take this into account.

Before your bronchoscopy, your blood pressure, pulse, and oxygen levels will be checked. You’ll be asked to remove glasses and dentures if you wear them.

You may be put under a local or a general anaesthetic. This may feel strange but it’s very safe.  Your doctor will let you know what is best for you.  

  • Local anaesthetic will make you more comfortable - you may be given a spray to numb your throat. You may also have some medication to make you feel sleepy.
  • General anaesthetic will make you fall asleep, and you won’t be aware of what is happening. This is not usually needed.

Once you are comfortable and the anaesthetic is working, the bronchoscope is inserted through your nose or mouth, down into your lungs. The tube has a camera on the end so the doctor can see inside your lungs. Your doctor might flush some water through the tubing, to remove cells for testing. Sometimes tissue samples are taken at the same time.

A bronchoscopy usually takes 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, you’ll need to recover for up to an hour before being taken home. 

EBUS (endobronchial ultrasound) bronchoscopy

This type of bronchoscopy uses a special type of bronchoscope with ultrasound, to see inside your lungs and take a tissue sample. It’s often used to get a sample from the glands (lymph nodes) in the lungs. It can give clearer results than a normal bronchoscopy.

An EBUS is done under sedation (you’ll feel sleepy) and a local anaesthetic. It takes up to an hour. Afterwards, you’ll need to recover for up to two hours before being taken home.

When will I get the results?

You may not get the results straight away. Your doctor will usually talk to you afterwards and tell you about the samples they have taken. You’ll be given an appointment with your doctor to discuss the results.

Results are not the same as a diagnosis

You may get your test results by post. Remember that these results are not the same as a diagnosis. You should still talk to your healthcare professional about them, so you can get help in understanding what they mean. They can answer any questions you have.

If you haven’t got a paper copy of your results, ask your doctor for them. They’re helpful to take with you to other hospital appointments. 

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