A laryngoscopy is an exam that gives your doctor a close-up view of your larynx and throat. The larynx is your voice box. It’s located at the top of your windpipe, or trachea.
It’s important to keep your larynx healthy because it contains your vocal folds, or cords. Air passing through your larynx and over the vocal folds causes them to vibrate and produce sound. This gives you the ability to speak.
A specialist known as an “ear, nose, and throat” (ENT) doctor will perform the exam. During the exam, your doctor place a small mirror into your throat, or insert a viewing instrument called a laryngoscope into your mouth. Sometimes, they’ll do both.
Laryngoscopy is used to learn more about various conditions or problems in your throat, including:
- persistent cough
- bloody cough
- throat pain
- bad breath
- difficulty swallowing
- persistent earache
- mass or growth in the throat
Laryngoscopy can also be used to remove a foreign object.
You’ll want to arrange for a ride to and from the procedure. You may not be able to drive for a few hours after having anesthesia.
Talk to your doctor about how they will perform the procedure, and what you need to do to prepare. Your doctor will ask you to avoid food and drink for eight hours before the exam depending on what kind of anesthesia you’ll be getting.
If you’re receiving mild anesthesia, which is usually the kind you would get if the exam were happening in your doctor’s office, there’s no need to fast.
Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you’re taking. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines, including aspirin and certain blood thinning drugs like clopidogrel (Plavix), up to one week before the procedure. Check with your doctor to be sure it is safe to discontinue any prescribed medication before doing so.
Your doctor may do some tests before the laryngoscopy to get a better idea of your symptoms. These tests may include:
- physical exam
- chest X-ray
- CT scan
- barium swallow
If your doctor has you do a barium swallow, X-rays will be taken after you drink a liquid that contains the barium. This element acts as a contrast material and allows your doctor to see your throat more clearly. It’s not toxic or dangerous and will pass through your system within a few hours of swallowing it.
Laryngoscopy usually takes between five and 45 minutes. There are two types of laryngoscopy tests: indirect and direct.
For the indirect method, you’ll sit up straight in a high back chair. Numbing medicine or a local anesthetic will usually be sprayed on your throat. Your doctor will cover your tongue with gauze and hold it to keep it from blocking their view.
Next, your doctor will insert a mirror into your throat and explore the area. You might be asked to make a certain sound. This is designed to make your larynx move. If you have a foreign object in your throat, your doctor will remove it.
The direct laryngoscopy can happen in the hospital or your doctor’s office, and usually you’re completely sedated under expert supervision. You won’t be able to feel the test if you’re under general anesthesia.
A special small flexible telescope goes into your nose or mouth and then down your throat. Your doctor will be able to look through the telescope to get a close view of the larynx. Your doctor can collect samples and remove growths or objects. This test may be done if you gag easily, or if your doctor needs to look at harder-to-see areas in your larynx.
During your laryngoscopy, your doctor may collect specimens, remove growths, or retrieve or pull out a foreign object. A biopsy may also be taken. After the procedure, your doctor will discuss the results and treatment options or refer you to another doctor. If you received a biopsy, it will take three to five days to find out the results.
There is a relatively low risk of complications associated with the exam. You may experience some minor irritation to the soft tissue in your throat afterward, but this test is considered very safe overall.
Give yourself time to recover if you’re given general anesthesia in a direct laryngoscopy. It should take about two hours to wear off, and you should avoid driving during this time.
Talk to your doctor if you’re nervous about the test, and they’ll let you know about any steps you should take beforehand.