Tuesday, May 15, 2007

How a Bronchoscopy Works

A bronchoscopy or "bronch" as it is often referred to by patients, is a procedure performed by a pulmonologist when a closer look of the airways and lungs is needed. This helps the doctor determine the progression of lung disease. Brochoscopies are useful for finding infection or physical problems within the lungs or airways.

A bronchoscopy consists of inserting a long, thin tube (usually through the nose) through the upper airway into the lungs. The physician can look at the surface of the lungs and take sputum specimens. This test may help find an infection or other lung problem. A CF patient may never need a bronchoscopy. It is performed only when a problem persists that cannot be identified by other means.

There are two types of broncoscopies: flexible and rigid. In both, the patient is sedated, though to differing degrees. For a flexible bronch, the doctor first sprays the patient's throat with a numbing medication. This makes the procedure more bearable and less irritating to the throat. A long thin piece of tubing, approximately 1/2 inch wide and 2 feet long is inserted via the nose, and down through the patient's windpipe (trachea.)

Once the tube has been properly inserted and is far enough into the lungs, the doctor will fill the tube with a solution of salt water. As the saline solution fills the air sacs, material that is present in the lungs is flushed out. This can be collected for further analysis by a laboratory.

When a rigid bronch is performed, the patient is sedated more completely using a medication like Versed. Sometimes the purpose of a bronchoscopy is to obtain a sample of the lung tissue. In such cases, a tiny forceps is threaded through the tube down into the lungs, and a tiny piece of tissue is pulled out.

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