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What is a rigid bronchoscopy?

A rigid bronchoscopy (brong-KOS-ko-pe) is a procedure to look inside the different parts of the respiratory system. Caregivers use a bronchoscope, which is a rigid (hard) tube with a light and tiny camera on the end. A rigid bronchoscope takes pictures of the inside of the airways that may be seen on a TV-like screen. The respiratory system is made up of the nose, larynx (voice box), trachea (air pipe), bronchial tubes, and lungs. When air is breathed in, it goes through the nose and mouth. The air then goes to the larynx and then through the trachea. From the trachea, air passes through the bronchial tubes and into the lungs. The air is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the air sacs of the lungs.

Why may a rigid bronchoscopy be needed?

  • In a rigid bronchoscopy, diseases and other problems that affect the airways and lungs may be found. These conditions may include causes of cough, troubled breathing, or blood in the sputum (spit). Your caregiver may also check for cancer, inflammation (swelling), polyps (growths), infections, or narrowing of the airways. A biopsy may be done where a small amount of tissue is taken and sent to a lab for tests. He may also do a washing or lavage during this procedure. A small amount of saline (salt water) is used to wash parts of the airways and lungs. The cells that are rinsed off are then collected and tested in the lab.
  • Your caregiver may also treat different conditions by doing a bronchoscopy. He may remove foreign objects or tumors that may be blocking your airways. He may also insert special tools, such as lasers, probes, suctions, or needles, through the scope. These will be used to heat or freeze tissues, or suck out mucus plugs or blot clots. He may also stop any bleeding or place a stent (tube) or balloon to widen the airways.

Who may not have a rigid bronchoscopy?

You will need to tell your caregiver if you are pregnant, have bleeding problems, or are taking any medicines. Having a rigid bronchoscopy may be delayed if you had a recent heart attack. A rigid bronchoscopy should not be done if you have any of the following:

  • Your neck, jaw or face have been injured.
  • Back problems, such as problems with the bones in your spine (vertebrae).
  • Uncontrolled or unstable heart disease.

How is a rigid bronchoscopy done?

Your caregiver may give you medicine that may numb your throat or put you to sleep. Your heartbeat and blood pressure are checked the whole time during the procedure. Your caregiver passes the scope through your mouth and into your airways (windpipe) as he looks at each part that he passes. He may videotape or take pictures of the inside of your airways. He may also take samples or remove tissues that may be causing your condition. When the procedure is finished, the scope is gently pulled out.

What are the possible risks and side effects of a rigid bronchoscopy?

Although not common, there are still risks and possible side effects of having a rigid bronchoscopy. These may include any of the following:

  • Bleeding.
  • Pain and irritation.
  • Perforation (holes or tears).
  • Pneumothorax (air in the space between the lungs and chest).

Where can I find more information?

  • American Thoracic Society
    61 Broadway
    New York, NY 10006-2755
    Phone: 1-212-315-8600
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.