Bronchial Rupture: Signs & Diagnosis

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

A bronchial rupture is a break or tear in the bronchi, which are part of the respiratory tract. In this lesson, learn about the signs and diagnosis of this type of injury.

Bronchial Rupture

Justin is a 43-year-old landscaper who does everything from planting flowers to trimming trees. One day at work, Justin is trimming a very large oak tree. In order to trim the tallest branches of this tree, Justin has to climb halfway up the tree with his trimmer and carefully stand on a thick branch of the tree.

While trimming these tall branches, Justin loses his footing and falls toward the ground. During his fall, several small branches hit Justin in his throat and upper chest. After he lands, Justin quickly checks his arms and legs to see if he has broken any bones. Luckily, other than a few minor scrapes and cuts, his arms and legs seem to be fine. Justin notices, however, that he has a severe pain in his upper chest. A few minutes after his fall, he begins coughing up blood.

Justin quickly jumps into his work truck and drives to the emergency room. In the emergency room, doctors perform several tests on Justin including a chest X-ray and a bronchoscopy. After reviewing the results of these tests, one of the doctors informs Justin that he has a bronchial rupture.

A bronchial rupture occurs when one or both of the bronchi gets torn or breaks. This type of injury is usually the result of car accidents, gun shot wounds, infections of the respiratory tract, foreign objects getting into the respiratory tract, and falls like the one that Justin sustained.

A bronchial rupture is a tear or break in the bronchi, shown here by the white arrow in a 3D image CT scan.
bronchial rupture

The respiratory tract is a series of tubes that allows air to flow from the nose and mouth to the lungs. This tract is made up of the trachea (also called the windpipe), which is a singular tube through the length of the neck that branches into two bronchi. Each of the bronchi then lead to each of the lungs.

The bronchi form when the trachea, or windpipe, divides into to separate tubes.

Bronchial Rupture: Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bronchial ruptures include:

  • Pain in the upper and middle chest area
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Subcutaneous emphysema (air bubbles that are trapped under the skin)

Bronchial Rupture: Diagnosis

There are several different ways that a bronchial rupture can be diagnosed, including chest CT scans, chest X-rays, and a bronchoscopy. A CT scan stands for ''computerized tomography'' and is performed by a machine that takes a series of X-rays from many different angles to create cross-sectional images of inside a body part. CT scans and X-rays can reveal if there are any breaks or tears in the bronchi tubes.

This is a picture of a CT scan that can be used to diagnose a bronchial rupture.
ct scan

A bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows a doctor to see inside a person's bronchi; this procedure involves inserting a small camera attached to a very long, thin flexible tube into the mouth. The camera is then fed down into the respiratory tract and allows the doctor to see any tears or breaks of the bronchi.

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