Bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to look at the airways of your lungs. Your doctor can use it to see if there are any problems, or remove anything that might be stuck. There are two types of bronchoscopy – flexible and rigid. This topic focusses on the more commonly used flexible bronchoscopy.

About bronchoscopy

In a flexible bronchoscopy, your doctor will use a flexible tube with a camera at the end, called a bronchoscope, to see down your airways. They’ll pass it down your nose or mouth, and then to the back of your throat to reach your lungs.

Your doctor can take samples of cells from your airways and remove a small piece of tissue (biopsy) so that these can be examined in a lab.

You’ll meet the doctor who’s going to do your bronchoscopy to discuss your care. It might not be exactly the same as what we’ve described here, as it will be tailored to meet your individual needs.

Rigid bronchoscopy

Your doctor has the option of using a rigid bronchoscope during the procedure but this isn’t common. It’s normally only used if your doctor needs to use larger instruments and cameras to look at and treat any problems with your airways. You’ll need to have a general anaesthetic if you have a rigid bronchoscopy. Sometimes a flexible and rigid bronchoscope are used together.

Your doctor will have talked through everything in detail before you’re admitted to hospital, and given you the opportunity to ask questions. They’ll have described the risks, benefits and alternatives to the procedure and the differences between a flexible and a rigid bronchoscopy. You should then be in a position where you understand everything so can give your consent for it to go ahead.


Uses of bronchoscopy

Your doctor will talk to you about why you need to have a bronchoscopy. Here’s just some of the possible reasons why you might need to have one.

  • Bleeding. If you’re coughing up blood, your doctor can use a bronchoscopy to look inside your airways to see where the blood is coming from.
  • Follow up a chest X-ray. If your doctor sees something on an X-ray that they want to take a closer look at, they might use a bronchoscopy. They can take samples at the same time.
  • A long-lasting cough. A bronchoscopy might help your doctor find the cause.
  • An infection. If your lungs are infected, your doctor might need to take some samples of mucus to help find out what’s causing your infection and how best to treat it.
  • Lung cancer staging. If you have lung cancer, a bronchoscopy can help to determine if it has spread, or to help deliver treatment.