What is bronchoscopy and what is it for?

Bronchoscopy is a diagnostic test that has been used since the late 19th century. Allows you to see the airway to the larger bronchi. In addition, it can even be used to treat certain pathologies.

This technique has advanced remarkably over time. Before it was made with a rigid steel tube. However, an elongated and flexible device is now used that is easier to handle.

Bronchoscopy It is one of the fundamental pillars in pulmonology and it is used very frequently. Therefore, in this article we explain everything you need to know about the technique and how it is done.

What is a bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy, as we have pointed out in the introduction, it is a procedure that allows visualizing the airway. It is done to diagnose or treat some respiratory diseases.

For this, the bronchoscope is used. It is a tube of about 60 centimeters that is inserted through the nostrils or the mouth. This tube consists of a kind of camera at the tip that allows the inside of the airway to be seen simultaneously on a screen.

In addition to a camera, the bronchoscope allows other elements to be introduced into the area. For example, tools to obtain tissue samples or to remove a foreign body from the line. Currently, the most widely used bronchoscope is the flexible one.

It allows reaching certain more inaccessible parts of the bronchi and having a margin of movement. However, the rigid bronchoscope is also still used. Especially in cases of bleeding or when there is a large foreign body in the airway.

What are the indications for bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy is a diagnostic and therapeutic technique in pulmonology, a branch of medicine that studies the lungs.

Bronchoscopy is a frequently used technique to diagnose possible lung disease. This is why it is usually done in people who have respiratory symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, or signs of infection.

In general, it is used when other diagnostic tests have failed to find the cause of the underlying pathology. In addition, it is important to emphasize that it is also a therapeutic tool. In this way, its main indications are the following:

  • Extract from the airway foreign bodies obstructing it.
  • Obtain samples of lung or bronchial tissue: This is used to identify the cause of an infection or make a histological diagnosis.
  • Cancer diagnosis: in fact, according to a study published in the Cuban Journal of Military Medicine, the best performance of bronchoscopy is when there is an oncological suspicion.
  • Stop a bleed: using laser or electrocautery techniques.
  • Expand airways: that could be narrowed.

How it is performed?

Bronchoscopy is a technique that is unpleasant for the patient. The procedure itself it usually lasts between half an hour and an hour. However, it requires preparation and a later recovery time, so it is often lengthy.

To avoid complications, bronchoscopy is sometimes done under general anesthesia. Especially when using the rigid bronchoscope, as it is more annoying. In other cases only tranquilizers are administered to calm and relax muscles.

Typically, the patient sits or lies on a stretcher. In order to perform the bronchoscopy, the heart rate and oxygen level must be controlled at all times. The bronchoscope can be inserted through the nose or mouth. It should be done slowly and avoiding sudden movements.

In some cases, another tube is inserted through which a saline solution is administered. By doing this, the mucus present in the airways is eliminated and better tissue samples can be obtained. Sometimes, as we pointed out before, dilator devices called stents.

Once the objective of the procedure has been specified, the bronchoscope must be removed. To do this, the doctor gently pulls on the tube, pulling it out little by little.

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Recommendations before a bronchoscopy

Although it is true that it can be done urgently, in many cases they are also carried out in a planned way. In these cases it is important to take into account all the recommendations made by the professional.

As it is an intervention with risk of bleeding, it is usually necessary to avoid any anticoagulant medications days before of the procedure. The ideal is to go with comfortable clothes and be accompanied.

Although general anesthesia is not required in all cases, medications used to calm the patient can leave them drowsy or dazed. For this reason, it is recommended that someone be able to follow up after the intervention.

During the procedure

Since general anesthesia is not required in most cases, the person who undergoes this technique is usually awake and can help. Thus, the doctor is able to ask questions about discomfort that may appear.

After the procedure

After bronchoscopy, it is important to leave a period of time for rest and surveillance. Complications such as bleeding may appear in the hours afterward. That is why it is essential that the patient remains under observation for at least a couple of hours.

In addition, during that period of time the effect of anesthetic drugs wears off. It is normal that, at that moment, you begin to feel discomfort and numbness. It is also not recommended to eat or drink anything in the hours after the bronchoscopy.

Most people experience some sore throat or cough. However, if you experience shortness of breath, coughing up blood, or a fever, it is essential to see a doctor.

When lung cancer is suspected, a bronchoscopy is required to confirm the diagnosis.

Risks of bronchoscopy

Like any other medical intervention, bronchoscopy has risks. But nevertheless, complications are rare. In fact, the most usual thing is that they derive from the anesthesia used for the procedure rather than from the technique itself.

Bronchoscopy is often used in children. This is because it is common for small objects to be swallowed and lodged in the airway. That is why it is important to note that, according to a study published in Pediatric Surgery, this technique is considered safe and with great diagnostic profitability at this stage of life.

According to the Mayo Clinic Possible risks of this procedure are bleeding, lung collapse, and fever. Bleeding is usually self-limited and tends to resolve on its own. Lung collapse occurs when, during bronchoscopy, the lung is perforated and air accumulates around it.

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Bronchoscopy is an essential technique in pulmonology

Bronchoscopy is a relatively simple procedure that provides great diagnostic and therapeutic advantages. It does not usually cause complications and, in most cases, it is performed without general anesthesia.

It is one of the most important techniques when it comes to diagnosing cancer. It is also very useful in pediatrics, since children often ingest small objects that get stuck in the airways. In addition, bronchoscopy allows for more and more therapeutic actions.