Bronchoscopy is a procedure that lets a lung specialist (pulmonologist) see inside your voice box (larynx) and larger airways (bronchi). A hollow flexible tube is introduced into the airway through the mouth or nose. The end of the tube has either fiberoptics or a camera, allowing the doctor to see inside the upper airways. The doctor can also insert small instruments in order to take tissue samples or apply medications.
Bronchoscopy can be used for both diagnosis and treatment. A doctor might look for the source of bleeding in the lung, or diagnose lung cancer, tuberculosis, bronchitis, and other airways diseases. Doctors can also take tissue samples of suspicious-looking areas or samples of bacteria causing pneumonia. Bronchoscopy can help identify airway malformations (like tracheal stenosis, where a section of the windpipe is abnormally narrow). In a patient who has suffered smoke inhalation or burns, a bronchoscopy can be used to help see the extent of the injury to the upper airways. Bronchoscopy might be used therapeutically, too. A doctor can remove a foreign object lodged in an airway, or remove secretions, blood or pus. Sometimes, a bronchoscope can be used to help a doctor insert a breathing tube (intubation) to assist a patient's breathing.
If your doctor says you must have a bronchoscopy, it will probably take place in the outpatient center of a hospital, or perhaps a day surgery center. While the procedure will probably only take around 20 minutes, the whole appointment might take three or four hours. You will be awake during your bronchoscopy; although there is some discomfort, the procedure shouldn't hurt, because you will get medication to help you relax, and medication to numb the inside of your throat. Most of the time, you go home shortly after the procedure. If you are already an inpatient in hospital, a bronchoscopy can be done at your bedside, or in a separate, specialized room.