A Close-Up Look at Laryngoscopy

Written by Scott Harris | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

Overview

The larynx is your voice box. It is located at the top of the your windpipe, or trachea. The larynx contains the vocal folds or chords. Air passing through the larynx and over the vocal folds causes them to vibrate and produce sound; this gives people the ability to speak.

A laryngoscopy is an exam that gives doctors a close-up view of the larynx and the throat. Doctors place a small mirror into the throat, or insert a rigid or flexible viewing tube called a laryngoscope in your mouth. Sometimes, they will do both.

Why Would I Need a Laryngoscopy?

Laryngoscopy is used to learn more about various conditions or problems in the throat, including:

  • persistent cough, bloody cough, hoarseness, throat pain, or bad breath
  • difficulty swallowing
  • persistent earache
  • mass or growth in the throat

Laryngoscopy can also be used to remove a foreign object.

How Does a Laryngoscopy Work?

Preparation for the test can include:

  • physical exam
  • chest X-ray or CT scan
  • barium swallow (X-rays that are taken after you drink a special liquid containing the element barium. Use of this contrast material, barium, allows your doctor to see your throat more clearly; it is not toxic or dangerous.)

Laryngoscopy usually takes between five and 45 minutes. There are two types of laryngoscopy tests: direct and indirect.

Indirect Laryngoscopy

For the indirect method, the patient sits up straight in a high-back chair. Numbing medicine is usually sprayed into the throat. The doctor will cover the tongue with gauze and hold it to keep it from blocking the view. Then, the doctor will stick a mirror into the throat and explore the area. A patient might be asked to make a certain sound. This is designed to make the larynx move. If you have a foreign object in your throat, the doctor will remove it at this point.

Direct Laryngoscopy

The direct method can happen in the hospital or doctor’s office, and usually the patient is completely sedated under expert supervision. A special tube goes into the nose or mouth and then down the throat. The doctor will be able to look through the tube to get a close view of the larynx. The doctor can collect samples and remove growths or objects.

Preparing for a Laryngoscopy

Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure. You may not be able to drive for a few hours after undergoing anesthesia.

Talk to your doctor about how he or she plans to 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, if you are getting certain types of anesthesia. If you are receiving mild anesthesia (which is usually the kind you would get if the exam is happening in your doctor’s office), then there is no need to fast.

Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you are taking. You may be asked to stop taking some medicines, including aspirin and certain blood-thinning drugs like Plavix, up to one week before the procedure.

Interpreting the Results

The doctor may collect specimens, remove growths, or retrieve or pull out a foreign object. A biopsy may also be taken. After the procedure, the 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.

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