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Bronchoscopy is frequently performed both as a diagnostic and therapeutic maneuver in the intensive care unit (ICU), wherein a flexible endoscope is threaded into the airways. The bronchoscope has a fiberoptic light source and suction channels as well as cables allowing the tip of the device to be flexed and retroflexed in one plane (Figure 30-1).

Definitions and Terms

  • ▪  Fiberoptic bronchoscope (FOB): Commonly used in the ICU.
  • ▪  Rigid bronchoscope: Inflexible variant bronchoscope not typically used in the ICU.
  • ▪  Fiberoptic intubation: Endotracheal intubation in which the bronchoscope is advanced through the nose or mouth and into the proximal trachea, after which an endotracheal tube is threaded over it into the airway.
  • ▪  Diagnostic bronchoscopy: May be performed to evaluate the character of the airways (ie, for edema, bleeding source), to obtain selected pathological specimens (ie, cultures, or tissue).
  • ▪  Therapeutic bronchoscopy: May be performed to remove secretions, clots, or foreign bodies from the airways.


  • ▪  Prior to performance of bronchoscopy, consent and the universal protocol should be performed as in Section I.
  • ▪  The operator should determine the approach to bronchoscopy.
    • —Awake-sedated bronchoscopy: This approach may be selected for patients in whom there is no need for an endotracheal tube and involves topical anesthesia of the proximal airway as well as sedation.
    • —Endotracheal: This approach is more common in patients in the ICU in whom bronchoscopy is performed through an existing artificial airway (ie, endotracheal tube or tracheostomy) as in Figure 30-2.
  • ▪  The operator should be familiar with proximal airway anatomy (Figure 30-3).
  • ▪  The bronchoscope can be advanced and withdrawn and the tip can be flexed with a thumb control to navigate the airways (Figure 30-4)—the index finger is used to control suction.
  • ▪  Airway bifurcations should be identified and may be off-axis depending on the operator’s location relative to the patient and the rotation of the tip of the bronchoscope relative to the hand control (Figures 30-5 and 30-6).
  • ▪  Secretions (Figure 30-7), blood, pus, or foreign bodies may be identified in the airway and should be removed to prevent atelectasis.
  • ▪  Suctioned material can be captured from the suction line and sent for culture or pathologic identification (Figure 30-8).

Figure 30-2.

Bronchoscopy through an endotracheal tube in an intubated patient.

Figure 30-4.

The hand controls of a flexible bronchoscope.


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