A bronchoscopy is an investigation of the inside of the airways using a thin tube with a camera and light within it. The bronchoscope transmits pictures to a large screen in the treatment room.

Dr Gareth Roberts, like most Consultants in Respiratory Medicine, prefers to use a flexible bronchoscope wherever possible. This has replaced the use of the older rigid bronchoscope, which cannot be used to visualise the smaller airways.

Flexible bronchoscopy is also much better tolerated by patients, although it can be stressful. If you have this procedure you will have a sedative, which makes you really relaxed and also makes you unable to remember the few minutes of the examination.

Why would I need a flexible bronchoscopy?

Investigation and diagnosis

Dr Roberts uses a flexible bronchoscope to investigate many conditions that affect the airways and lungs, including:

  • Lung cancer
  • Strictures (narrowings) within the airways
  • Lung infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. The bronchoscopy can reveal how much lung damage and inflammation has been caused by the infection.
  • Chronic cough
  • Interstitial pulmonary disease
  • Problems with the vocal cords, such as paralysis

The investigation is a combination of looking inside the body at the tissues and obtaining samples of tissue and fluid for further analysis.

Treatment during bronchoscopy

In many cases, investigation of the problem is combined by on-the-spot treatment. Ideally, Dr Roberts tries to perform one bronchoscopy where possible, rather than having a patient return for treatment.

Many treatments listed below are possible through a bronchoscope.  Although Dr Roberts does not perform all of these, appropriate referrals to other centres can be arranged:

  • Removing a foreign object that has been inhaled
  • Putting a stent in place to prevent an airway collapsing
  • Draining an abscess
  • Implanting radioactive beads to treat bronchial tumours (this type of treatment is called brachytherapy)
  • Using lasers to remove bronchial tumours
  • Removing substances such as blood, mucus or benign growths that are blocking the airways
  • Stopping bleeding within the airways

Having a flexible bronchoscopy

The procedure is usually done as a day case. This means you won’t stay in hospital overnight.

The British Thoracic Society have a very good patient information leaflet about Flexible bronchoscopy. https://www.brit-thoracic.org.uk/document-library/clinical-information/bronchoscopy/bts-patient-information-leaflet-bronchoscopy/

Dr Roberts recommends that you have someone available to go home with you as you won’t be able to drive after the sedation.

“Patients are often worried that the procedure will be unpleasant, however the aim is to ensure that the patient is relaxed throughout the procedure.  Due to the amnesic effect of the sedation I have known patients to come round afterwards asking when we are due to start!”