Bronchoscopy is an examination of the larger airways (trachea and bronchi) using an instrument called a bronchoscope. A bronchoscope is a type of endoscope — a flexible instrument that sees inside the body using fiberoptic technology (very fine filaments that can bend and carry light). In bronchoscopy, the doctor can look directly inside the larger breathing passages for signs of tumors and can take samples of lung fluids or tissue if necessary.
During bronchoscopy, a flexible bronchoscope is inserted through the mouth or nose, then slowly passed down into the trachea and bronchi. To limit discomfort, the mouth or nose is numbed with a local anesthetic beforehand and a light sedative may also be injected into the veins. The bronchoscopy procedure itself usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes, not counting preparation time.
A rigid bronchoscope sometimes is used instead of a flexible fiber-optic instrument. The rigid instrument doesn't bend, doesn't see as far down into the lungs as the flexible one, and may have a greater risk of causing injury to nearby structures. Because it can cause more discomfort than the flexible bronchoscope, it requires stronger anesthesia and is usually done in an operating room of a hospital. However, it is useful in certain situations, such as for taking large samples of tissue, treating certain cancers and removing foreign bodies.