What is a bronchoscopy?

A bronchoscopy is a medical procedure where an endoscope (a thin tube with a small camera and light) is passed through the mouth and into the upper airways. It allows your doctor to see what’s happening in your upper airways.

Why is a bronchoscopy done?

In intensive care, bronchoscopies are done to diagnose and treat upper airway problems, including:

  • complications such as infections or bleeding
  • obtaining samples of tissue and any abnormalities
  • removing foreign objects stuck in the airway.

Sometimes a bronchoscopy will be used to help with inserting an endotracheal or a tracheostomy tube (types of breathing tubes).

What happens in Intensive Care (ICU)?

The procedure will be explained to the person and their family. Before the procedure is done, the person will be sedated, but very ill people will be fully asleep. If the person already has an artificial airway, it will be used to help insert the bronchoscope into the upper airways. The medical staff will continue to monitor the person during the procedure using the bedside monitor. Where necessary, specimens of sputum (phlegm) or tissue will be sent to a lab for testing to get a formal diagnosis.

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please discuss them with the ICU nurses and doctors.

Publication details

Bronchoscopy, version 1.1. Reviewed by Kaye Rolls, RN, Clinical project officer, ICNSW, March 2016.


The information on this page is general in nature and cannot reflect individual patient variation. It reflects Australian intensive care practice, which may differ from that in other countries. It is intended as a supplement to the more specific information provided by the doctors and nurses caring for your loved one. ICNSW attests to the accuracy of the information contained here but takes no responsibility for how it may apply to an individual patient. Please refer to the full disclaimer.