A rigid bronchoscope is a straight, hollow, metal tube. Doctors perform rigid bronchoscopy less often today, but it remains the procedure of choice for removing foreign materials, as its increased thickness allows instruments to be more easily inserted through it. Rigid bronchoscopy also becomes useful when bleeding interferes with viewing the examining area, and allows for more interventions, such as cautery to stop the bleeding.
A flexible bronchoscope is a long thin tube that contains small clear optical fibers that transmit light images as the tube bends. Its flexibility allows this instrument to reach further into the airway. The procedure can be performed easily and safely under local anesthesia. As flexible bronchoscopes become more advanced, it is likely that they will replace rigid bronchoscopes for most procedures.
The patient will be given antianxiety and antisecretory medications (to prevent oral secretions from obstructing the view), generally atropine (Atropair, I-Tropine) and morphine (Duramorph, Oramorph, Roxanol), half an hour before the procedure.
The patient is monitored during the procedure with periodic blood pressure checks, continuous ECG monitoring of the heart and oxygen measurement. Monitoring is particularly important when the patient remains conscious during the procedure.
The doctor inserts a flexible bronchoscope through either the nose or mouth either in the sitting or lying down position.
Once the bronchoscope is inserted into the upper airway, the doctor examines the vocal cords. The doctor continues to advance the instrument to the trachea and further down into the bronchus, examining each area as the bronchoscope passes.
If doctors discover an abnormality, they may sample it, using a brush, a needle, or forceps.They also may sample a large number of alveoli. Doctors can obtain a specimen of lung tissue (transbronchial biopsy) often using a real-time x-ray (fluoroscopy).
Nurses watch closely for 2-4 hours following the procedure, usually every 15 minutes. The patient is kept in semi-fowler position. Most complications occur early and are readily apparent at the time of the procedure. The patient is assessed for respiratory difficulty (stridor and dyspnea resulting from laryngeal edema or laryngospasm). Monitoring continues until the effects of sedative drugs wear off and gag reflex has returned. If the patient has had a transbronchial biopsy, doctors will take a chest x-ray to rule out any air leakage in the lungs (pneumothorax) after the procedure. The patient will be hospitalized if there occurs any bleeding, air leakage (pneumothorax), or respiratory distress.
Complications from fiberoptic bronchoscopy remain extremely low.
Common complications include either heart and blood vessel problems or excessive bleeding following biopsy. A lung biopsy also may cause leakage of air called pneumothorax. Pneumothorax occurs in less than 1% of cases requiring lung biopsy.