Bronchoscopy is a medical examination that allows the doctor to examine the airways in the body. In the test, the doctor threads an instrument called a bronchoscope through the nose or mouth and further down the throat to reach the lungs. The bronchoscope is made of a flexible fibre-optic material, which has a light source as well as a camera at its end. Most bronchoscopes are well-matched with colour video, which helps the doctor document their findings.
The two types of bronchoscopy are as follows:
Flexible Bronchoscopy: This test is done with the help of a thin, long, and lighted tube to look at the patient’s airway. This type of bronchoscope is more commonly used because it usually does not need general anaesthesia, offers an improved view of the smaller airways, and is more comfortable for the person getting diagnosed. It also helps the doctor extract small samples of tissue for biopsy.
Rigid Bronchoscopy: It is typically done with the help of a straight, hollow metal tube and uses general anaesthesia. It is done during the following situations:
To collect large tissue samples for biopsy.
When bleeding occurs in the airway that can block the flexible scope's view.
To remove objects (such as a piece of food) from the airway that cannot be removed with the help of a flexible bronchoscope.
Bronchoscopy can be used for diagnosis as well as treatment. Bronchoscopy is used to diagnose conditions like:
An unexplained or a persistent cough
Abnormal chest x-rays that show inflammation of the lung, mass, or nodule
Bronchoscopy is used for treatment in the following situations:
To remove foreign bodies, present in the airway
To place a stent to open a collapsed airway caused due to pressure by a tumour or mass
To remove any growth that is blocking the airway
Once the patient is relaxed, the doctor inserts the bronchoscope into the patient’s nose. The bronchoscope passes from the nose down to the throat until it reaches the patient’s bronchi. The bronchi are the airways present in the lungs. Needles or brushes may be attached to the bronchoscope to gather tissue samples from the lungs. These samples help the doctor to diagnose any lung conditions the patient may have.
The doctor may also use a procedure called bronchial washing to gather cells. This is done by spraying a saline solution all over the surface of the airways. The cells that are washed off the surface are then assembled and observed under a microscope. Depending on the patient’s specific condition, the doctor may find one or more of the following:
If the patient’s airways are blocked, the doctor might need a stent to keep them open. A stent is a small tube that can be placed into the patient’s bronchi with the help of a bronchoscope. After the doctor has completed the examination of the lungs, the bronchoscope is removed.
The bronchoscopy procedure is safe for most people. However, like all medical tests, there are some risks involved. Risks may include infection, bleeding, especially if a biopsy is done, a low blood oxygen level at the time of the test and trouble in breathing.