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Bronchoscopy FAQ

Bronchoscopy allows your doctor to examine the inside of your air passages using a bronchoscope — a thin, flexible tube equipped with a light and small camera.

What is bronchoscopy used for?
What do I need to know before I come in for my test?
How should I prepare for a bronchoscopy procedure?
Are there any medicines I should stop taking before the procedure?
Are there any special instructions if I’m taking medication for a specific condition?
Where should I go for my test?
What happens during the bronchoscopy exam?
How long does the procedure take?
How are samples or biopsies taken during the procedure?
Are there any risks involved with the exam?
What happens after the procedure?
When will I get my results?
Can I drive myself home?
When can I eat and drink again?
Are there other guidelines for after bronchoscopy?
What can I do if I have a sore throat after the procedure?
Are there any symptoms I should watch for?

What is bronchoscopy used for?

Bronchoscopy allows your doctor to visually examine your air passages to diagnose lung conditions such as cancer, pneumonia, tuberculosis, pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP) and other conditions. The bronchoscope’s camera provides images of your airways and lungs on a color TV monitor.

If your doctor finds abnormal growths, secretions or blood during the exam, he or she may take a sample for further testing in the lab. Bronchoscopy is also used during advanced procedures, such as bronchial thermoplasty.

What do I need to know before I come in for my test?

Learn more about what to bring to the hospital by reviewing our admissions and registration information. Be sure to download and fill out our pre-admission and medication forms.

Bronchoscopy is a specific type of endoscopy (an internal exam using a flexible tube fitted with a light and camera), and we have campus-specific information and forms for patients scheduled for any type of endoscopic exam.

Mountain View campus:

Los Gatos campus:

How should I prepare for a bronchoscopy procedure?

Because the exam requires an empty stomach, don’t eat or drink anything for eight hours before the test. If your appointment is before noon, don’t eat or drink after midnight. If you take medicines, you can take them with a small sip of water first thing in the morning, unless you’ve been instructed otherwise.

If your bronchoscopy is scheduled in the afternoon, you can eat a light breakfast before 7 a.m., such as a piece of toast, juice and a cup of coffee. Take any medicine at that time. Don’t eat or drink anything after 7 a.m.

Are there any medicines I should stop taking before the procedure?

Don’t take products containing aspirin or ibuprofen, nonsteroidal products, blood thinners or cilostazol (Pletal) for five days before the procedure. These medicines increase your risk of bleeding. If you have concerns about a particular medication, talk to your doctor.

In addition, if you have sensitivities to lidocaine, atropine or benzodiazepines — medications necessary to perform bronchoscopies — let your doctor know.

Are there any special instructions if I’m taking medication for a specific condition?

Make sure you bring all your medications to your appointment or bring in a completed medication form. In addition, you may follow special instructions if you’re taking medication for a particular condition, including:

  • Diabetes – Take half your usual dose of medicine or check with your doctor for instructions.
  • High blood pressure, heart disease or seizure disorders – Take your medicine with a sip of water.

Where should I go for my test?

Plan to arrive 90 minutes before your scheduled procedure time. If your procedure is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., you only need to arrive an hour beforehand.

  • Mountain View campus. Go to the patient registration desk in the main hospital lobby. After you register, you’ll be directed to the endoscopy center where you’ll check in with the admitting nurse.
  • Los Gatos campus. Bronchoscopies are performed in the emergency department, and you’ll check in at the emergency department registration desk.

What happens during the bronchoscopy exam?

In the procedure room, your nurse will apply the following to help monitor you during your exam:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) leads on your chest.
  • Oxygen sensor on one finger.
  • Oxygen under your nose.
  • Blood pressure cuff on your arm.

The nurse will spray your throat to reduce your gag reflex. The spray will also numb your nose. Just before your procedure starts, your nurse or anesthesiologist will begin your sedation. Your doctor will determine the type of sedation — either intravenous medication or general anesthesia, which requires an anesthesiologist — before your appointment and will discuss it with you.

To perform the exam, your doctor will pass the bronchoscope through your mouth or nose and into the airways. The procedure involves little risk and isn’t painful.

How long does the procedure take?

A bronchoscopy exam usually takes about an hour, or up to two hours for an interventional bronchoscopy procedure.

How are samples or biopsies taken during the procedure?

There are a few methods for collecting cell or tissue samples during the exam. Your doctor may use an X-ray to guide where the sample is taken:

  • Brushing. Your doctor inserts a soft brush, which looks like a pipe cleaner, through a tube in the bronchoscope to gently wipe lung tissue or a lesion to gather cells.
  • Washing or alveolar lavage. Your doctor injects a salt solution into your lungs and then suctions out the liquid, which includes cells for examination.
  • Biopsy. Your doctor passes a device through the bronchoscope to collect a small sample of lung tissue. You might briefly feel a sensation of tugging or pinching, which fades quickly.

Are there any risks involved with the exam?

There’s a very low risk of complications with bronchoscopy. Complications such as a collapsed lung (pneumothorax) — which can be treated using a stent (flexible tube) to open the airway — and bleeding at the biopsy site are only remotely possible and can be resolved quickly if they occur.

What happens after the procedure?

You’ll be taken to the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) to rest. Your mouth and throat will feel numb, similar to the feeling after a dental procedure. You’ll spend at least an hour in recovery while the sedation or anesthesia wears off. In addition, you might experience some hoarseness or a sore throat from the positioning of the bronchoscope.

During your recovery in the PACU, your doctor may talk to you about your test. If you give permission, a friend or family member can be in the room with you to be a part of the conversation.

Once you’re ready to be discharged, a nurse or another clinician will bring you to the front lobby in wheelchair.

When will I get my results?

It usually takes 48 to 72 hours to receive lab results, so your doctor will contact you at that time to discuss findings with you.

Can I drive myself home?

For your safety, we require that you have a ride home after a bronchoscopy exam. A nurse will ask the name and phone number of the person picking you up. If you don’t have an appropriate ride home, your procedure will need to be rescheduled.

If you need a ride, we recommend one of these affordable ride services:

We don’t consider taxi or limousine services adequate transportation for this purpose.

When can I eat and drink again?

Don’t eat or drink anything until the effects of the sedation or anesthesia have worn off and your gag reflex returns to normal. This helps assure you don’t inhale food or liquids into your windpipe and lungs accidentally.

Once it’s safe to eat, stick with soft, bland foods like eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, soup, or macaroni and cheese for your first meal. Avoid foods that cause gas, and don’t drink alcohol.

Are there other guidelines for after bronchoscopy?

You’ll be given specific instructions before you go home, but in most cases we recommend you don’t drive, operate machinery, work or exercise the remainder of the day after your procedure. You may experience a low-grade fever of 100 degrees or lower.

What can I do if I have a sore throat after the procedure?

Try gargling with salt water or sucking on a cough drop to relieve soreness. A sore throat should improve in a few days. You may also see a small amount of blood on the tissue when you cough or wipe, caused by irritation from the bronchoscope.

Are there any symptoms I should watch for?

If you experience any of the following, call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away:

  • Heavy bleeding.
  • Severe chest or abdominal pain.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees).
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Severe constipation.

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