DefinitionLaryngoscopy is the visual exam of the voice box, also called the larynx, and the vocal cords. There are two main kinds:
- Indirect laryngoscopy—uses mirrors to examine the larynx and hypopharynx, which is a portion of the passageway to the lungs and stomach
- Direct laryngoscopy—uses a special instrument, most often a flexible scope
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Reasons for ProcedureLaryngoscopy is used to examine and diagnose problems inside the throat. It is most often done:
- To assist in intubation to help with breathing for surgery or serious illness
- To diagnose the cause of a persistent cough, bloody cough, hoarseness, throat pain, or bad breath
- To evaluate reasons for difficulty swallowing
- To evaluate a possible cause for persistent earache
- To remove a foreign object
- To visualize a mass in the throat
- To biopsy tissue inside the throat
- To remove polyps inside the throat
Possible ComplicationsProblems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Vomiting and gagging
- Excessive swelling or bleeding
- Cuts on the bottom of the tongue from stretching it over the teeth
- Bleeding from the nose if the scope is passed through the nose
- Anesthesia-related problems
- Breathing problems from swelling
What to Expect
Prior to ProcedureYour doctor may do some of the following:
- Physical exam
- Chest x-ray
- Barium swallow —a series of x-rays of the larynx and esophagus
- CT scan —to make pictures of the inside of the body
- Arrange for a ride to and from the procedure if a general anesthetic or sedation is given.
- If you will have general anesthesia, you will probably be told not to eat or drink anything for eight hours before the exam. For office procedures under local anesthesia, there is no need to fast.
AnesthesiaLocal or general anesthesia may be used for a laryngoscopy. Local anesthesia will numb the throat. With general anesthesia, you will be asleep.
Description of the ProcedureDuring either type of laryngoscopy, photographs may be taken.Indirect LaryngoscopyYou will sit up straight in a high-back chair. A headrest will push your head and jaw forward. The anesthesia will be sprayed into your throat. Your tongue will be covered with gauze and held by the doctor. You will then need to breathe through your mouth as if panting. A warm mirror will be held at the back of the throat. The doctor will ask you to make a specific sound and watch the larynx. If there is a foreign object, such as a chicken bone, it can be removed.Direct Fiberoptic LaryngoscopyThe direct method is most often done after the indirect method. The direct method will allow the doctor to see a greater area. The direct method may also be used if your gag reflex did not allow a thorough exam during the indirect method. A special scope will be inserted through your nose or mouth and into your throat. The larynx will be examined through an eyepiece on the scope. The doctor may then collect specimens, remove growths, or retrieve a foreign object trapped in the throat. This method is often done in the operating room under general anesthesia or in the office under local anesthesia.
How Long Will It Take?An indirect laryngoscopy only takes a few minutes. A direct laryngoscopy takes about 5–45 minutes, depending on the problem.
Will It Hurt?Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. With a direct method, you may have a sore throat for a few days if a biopsy was done.
Postoperative CareIf any tissue was removed, it will be sent to be examined.Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions, which may include:
- Do not smoke for 24 hours after the procedure. Smoke irritates the throat.
- Do not try to swallow until your gag reflex returns. Spit out saliva and secretions. The gag reflex should return in about two hours. At this time, throat lozenges or a liquid gargle will help decrease hoarseness and throat irritation. Drinking water is encouraged.
- If a biopsy was taken, avoid clearing your throat or coughing.
Call Your DoctorIt is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the care center. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Increasing pain
- Coughing up, spitting out, or vomiting blood
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Hoarse voice
- Cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, or severe nausea or vomiting
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Cancer Society
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Laryngoscopy. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/surgery/laryngoscopy.html. Updated March 2013. Accessed May 23, 2014.
Laryngoscopy and biopsy. NetDoctor website. Available at: http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/surgical-procedures/laryngoscopy-and-biopsy.htm. Updated July 6, 2009. Accessed May 23, 2014.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 05/2014
- Update Date: 05/23/2014