Bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows your doctor to see the interior passageways of your lower respiratory tract through a bronchoscope (a long, narrow, fiberoptic, lighted tube inserted through the nose or mouth). With a bronchoscope, your doctor can see your larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe), bronchi (two main airways that branch off the trachea), and bronchioles (smaller branches of the bronchi).
Flexible and Rigid Bronchoscopy
There are two types of bronchoscopes: flexible and rigid. One advantage of a flexible bronchoscope is that the doctor can maneuver it to see not only the larger airways (trachea and bronchi) but also the smaller bronchioles. This way the doctor can get more information about your condition than with a rigid bronchoscope.
Also, flexible bronchoscopes have interior channels that doctors can use in treatment, such as to deliver oxygen, suction secretions, obtain tissue samples (biopsies), give medications, and perform laser therapy.
Navigational bronchoscopy is a technique that allows access to distant parts of the lungs that doctors cannot reach using conventional bronchoscopy. For this procedure, your doctor uses a computed tomography (CT) scan of your chest to map the airways leading to the outer areas of your lung. Using the bronchoscope and an electromagnetic field around your chest, the doctor directs a catheter through the mapped airways. Then the doctor can pass tools through this catheter to take a sample of a lung nodule or mass.
Other related procedures that your doctor may use to diagnose lung problems include chest X-ray, CT scan of the chest, bronchography, chest fluoroscopy, chest ultrasound, lung scan, lung biopsy, mediastinoscopy, positron emission tomography (PET scan) of the chest, and pulmonary angiogram.