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Overview

Let’s say that you’ve been coughing or experiencing discomfort in your chest, but the cause remains a mystery. Your doctor might order a test called a bronchoscopy. This allows visual examination of your throat, airways and lungs for signs of blockages or disease.

In this routine test, a physician slips a flexible device called a bronchoscope through your nose or mouth, down your throat and into your lungs. At its tip, the bronchoscope is equipped with a light and camera. The bronchoscope has been used by doctors for decades, but our physicians increasingly combine it with other imaging technology to gather more accurate information. “These additional tools can act like a GPS system to help us find a growth in the lungs, for example,” says Yale Medicine pulmonologist Jonathan Puchalski, MD.

What can a bronchoscopy detect?

The bronchoscope can be used to visually examine airways and is helpful in figuring out the cause of abnormal “spots” or masses and other lung problems. A bronchoscope equipped with an ultrasound probe, called an endobronchial ultrasound, is used to used to obtain a biopsy sample to determine if cancer is present when lymph nodes are enlarged. Other probes use navigation similar to a GPS system to help diagnose lung problems.

How does a bronchoscopy work?

You’ll be given instructions about how to prepare for the procedure, such as not drinking or eating anything for up to 8 hours before the exam. Prior to the procedure, you will be given a drug that numbs your mouth, throat, and nose so that you cannot feel the bronchoscope as it slides down into your airways. You will also be given medication with anesthesia so that you are comfortable during the test.

About how long does an average bronchoscopy session last?

Bronchoscopy usually lasts an hour or less. About one hour after the procedure, your cough reflex will return. At this point, it will be safe to eat or drink.

What does a bronchoscopy accomplish?

Besides allowing a physician to see the inside of a patient’s airways and lungs, a bronchoscope can also be used to obtain samples or remove blockages. A physician can insert tiny brushes or needles through the bronchoscope in order to obtain tissue samples, or biopsies, from the lungs. If an obstruction is present, different tools similar to lasers can be used to improve breathing.

What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to bronchoscopy stand out?

Yale Medicine’s physicians are highly trained and have many years of experience with advanced bronchoscopy. “Even though the bronchoscope has been around for a couple of decades, we combine it with new technology that is fairly novel,” Dr. Puchalski says. Given new technological advances, the bronchoscope is an important tool in the treatment of lung conditions and diseases, including cancer.