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.
Why would I need a laryngoscopy?
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
Preparing for a laryngoscopy
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
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.
How does a laryngoscopy work?
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.
Interpreting the results
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.
Are there any side effects from a laryngoscopy?
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.