What Is Bronchoscopy? - Definition, Anatomy & Complications

Instructor: Virginia Rawls

Virginia has a master' degree in Education and a bachelors in Sports Medicine/athletic Training

In this lesson, we will learn about a procedure known as bronchoscopy. We will explore how this procedure helps diagnose conditions, treat conditions, and retrieve objects stuck in the respiratory tract. Potential complications will also be covered.

What is Bronchoscopy?

Bronchoscopy is a technique in which a surgeon inserts a tiny camera into the airways in order to view the respiratory tract. Bronchoscopies can be done for many reasons. Normally, they are done to detect cancer in the upper airway, help diagnose diseases of the respiratory tract, or to treat foreign objects stuck in the airway. A foreign object is anything found in the body that is NOT normally supposed to be there. Other reasons patients may have this procedure include:

  • Lung disease diagnosis
  • Lung infection diagnosis
  • To check for damage when someone has inhaled toxic gases or heavy amounts of smoke
  • To drain abscesses
  • Coughing up blood for no known reason
  • To dilate the airway.

Surgical Anatomy

Like I mentioned before, bronchoscopies are done on the respiratory tract. The respiratory tract is divided into upper and lower portions. The upper tract is made up of the nose, nasal sinuses, mouth, pharynx, and the larynx above the vocal cords. The lower portion is made up of the larynx below the vocal cords, trachea, and the primary and secondary bronchi. The lungs are also a part of the lower tract, and include the bronchioles, alveolar ducts, alveolar sacs, and the alveoli.

Most of this anatomy can be observed during a bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy procedure starts with the mouth, so anything associated with the nose and nasal sinuses is excluded from the procedure. Also, the lung tissue is too tiny for the surgical instruments to fit in, so the bronchoscopy will end at the primary bronchi.

The Procedure

This procedure is typically done in the operating room. The patient will be awake, but sedated so that he will not feel any pain or discomfort during the procedure. The surgeon uses a bronchoscope to see inside of the airway. This scope can be flexible or rigid (hard). Flexible scopes are used more frequently because they are smaller and can get further down the respiratory tract. The flexible scope can be from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch wide and can be up to 2 feet long.

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