Flexible bronchoscopy is done as an outpatient or day-case procedure. This means you will have the bronchoscopy and go home the same day.
Your doctor will discuss with you what will happen before your bronchoscopy, including any pain you might have. If you’re unsure about anything, ask. No question is too small. Being fully informed will help you feel more at ease and will allow you to give your consent for the bronchoscopy to go ahead. You may be asked to do this by signing a consent form.
You will be asked not to eat for four hours or drink for two hours before the procedure.
At the hospital your nurse will check your heart rate and blood pressure before and throughout the procedure.
Bronchoscopy is usually done under local anaesthesia with sedation.
A local anaesthetic will block the sensation and pain from your nose, mouth and throat. If you have a sedative injection, it may help you relax. It may also make you feel drowsy.
Your doctor will spray the inside of your nose and throat with a local anaesthetic to numb the area. Your doctor will then pass the bronchoscope through your nose or mouth to the back of your throat to numb your larynx (voice box) with local anaesthetic. This may cause you to cough and feel uncomfortable. However, the coughing usually settles down once the anaesthetic starts working.
Your doctor will examine your airways by looking at images sent though a camera attached to a video screen. He or she may take a small piece of tissue (biopsy), brushings and washings of any abnormal areas.
Afterwards, your doctor will remove the bronchoscope. This doesn’t usually hurt.
The procedure should take between 10 and 20 minutes.
After a local anaesthetic, it may take several hours before the feeling comes back fully into your nose, mouth and throat.
If you’re given a sedative injection, it will temporarily affect your co-ordination and reasoning skills. Therefore, you must not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours after the procedure.
You will need to rest until the effects of the local anaesthetic and sedation have passed.
A nurse will monitor you while you recover. You may have a chest X-ray to check for complications. Don't eat or drink anything for two hours after the procedure because your throat will be numb. It can be normal for you to have a small amount of blood in your mouth after the procedure.
Sometimes your doctor may be able to discuss your results straight away. It’s a good idea to have someone with you because the sedative may make you forget what the doctor says. If samples were taken, your doctor will tell you when the results will be ready, which is generally in about a week.
You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready. You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home. You should also try to have a friend or relative stay with you for a couple of hours after the procedure.
You may have a sore throat, cough or hoarseness after your procedure. You can take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help any pain or discomfort. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
You shouldn't have any problems after your bronchoscopy. However, you must tell the nurse who is monitoring you if you:
- have chest pain
- have difficulty breathing
- cough up a large amount of blood (more than a tablespoon)
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with a bronchoscopy. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your doctor to explain how these risks apply to you.
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.
Following your bronchoscopy, you may have a sore throat, cough or hoarseness. You may also cough up a little blood, normally less than a tablespoon.
Complications are when problems occur during or after the procedure.
Complications of bronchoscopy are uncommon but can include:
- a reaction to the sedative or local anaesthesia
- a collapsed lung
Will bronchoscopy affect my singing?
Your voice might become hoarse after bronchoscopy, so it may be best to let your voice return to normal before you sing.
When you have bronchoscopy, the bronchoscope will be passed down your nose or mouth, to the back of your throat. If you talk when the bronchoscope is in your airways, it may make your voice hoarse and give you a sore throat after the procedure.
If you’re worried, ask your doctor before your procedure about whether you should rest your voice until any hoarseness goes away.
When can I go back to work after a bronchoscopy?
This will depend on how you're feeling, your side-effects and whether you have any problems during or after the procedure.
Bronchoscopy is a safe procedure that carries little risk.
Following the procedure you may have a sore throat and hoarse voice. You may also cough up a small amount of blood. This isn’t usually much at all – less than a tablespoon. These side-effects are only temporary.
It's important to remember that if you’re given sedation, it may temporarily affect your co-ordination and reasoning skills. Therefore you must not drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign legal documents for 24 hours after your procedure.
Your doctor can give you more information about when you can return to work after your procedure.
I'm very anxious about having a bronchoscopy. Will it hurt?
Bronchoscopy is a short procedure that lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. It may feel slightly uncomfortable when the bronchoscope goes down your nose or mouth, but this shouldn't last long.
It's natural and not unusual to feel worried about having a bronchoscopy. Remember though that your doctor will explain what happens at each stage so you know what to expect. If you’re not sure you want to have the bronchoscopy, you can take more time to decide. Your doctor won’t carry out the bronchoscopy until you understand and agree with what’s going to happen. It might help to have some questions prepared to ask your doctor about the bronchoscopy.
The bronchoscopy may make you cough, but try not to worry as this is common. Your doctor will give you a local anaesthetic to help reduce any coughing. If you find yourself getting anxious, concentrate on taking slow breaths. If you’re very anxious, you can have a sedative injection which may help you relax.
- Du Rand IA, Blaikley J, Booton R, et al. British Thoracic Society guideline for diagnostic flexible bronchoscopy in adults. Thorax 2013; 68:i1–i44. doi:10.1136/thoraxjnl-2013-203618
- Bronchoscopy. The Merck Manual. www.merckmanuals.com, published June 2013
- Bronchoscopy. British Lung Foundation. www.blf.org.uk, accessed 8 April 2014
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Reviewed by Kuljeet Battoo, Bupa Health Information Team, May 2014.
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