What is a laryngoscopy?
A laryngoscopy is a procedure healthcare providers use to examine your larynx (voice box). This is performed with a laryngoscope, a thin tube with a light, lens and a video camera that helps providers look closely at your larynx. Providers may do laryngoscopies in a clinic office or as surgery in an operating room.
What is my larynx?
Your larynx is located between your throat and your trachea (windpipe). Your larynx houses your vocal cords (vocal folds), which enable you to speak and sing. Your epiglottis sits on top of your larynx. Your epiglottis is a flap that closes when you eat or drink so items intended for your esophagus (food pipe) don’t end up in your larynx or in your airway. When people talk about something going down the wrong pipe, the pipe they’re talking about is your larynx.
When would I need a laryngoscopy?
Your healthcare provider may recommend a laryngoscopy to diagnose problems like dysphonia (hoarseness) or to diagnose laryngitis. They may also do laryngoscopies to diagnose more serious conditions such as laryngeal cancer.
Who performs laryngoscopies?
Healthcare providers called otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeons perform laryngoscopies. An otolaryngologist is a provider and surgeon who specializes in treating conditions that affect your ear, nose, throat and head and neck. Otolaryngologists may perform laryngoscopies in a clinic office or in an operating room.
I’m having a laryngoscopy. What should I expect?
Your healthcare provider will consider your specific situation when deciding which type of laryngoscopy they’ll use. You may have your laryngoscopy in a clinic office or as a surgical procedure. For example, your provider may decide you should have a surgical laryngoscopy in an operating room. This is a direct laryngoscopy. Providers typically do direct laryngoscopies following in-office flexible laryngoscopies. Direct laryngoscopies may be done along with biopsies or other surgical procedures.
What happens before my laryngoscopy?
If you’re having a surgical laryngoscopy, you’ll receive general anesthesia. Your provider will talk to you about getting ready for your procedure:
- You may need to fast the night before your procedure.
- You may need to avoid certain medications before your procedure.
- If you smoke, your provider may recommend you stop smoking a week or so before your procedure.
- You’ll need someone to give you a ride home after your surgery.
You don’t need to do anything to prepare for a laryngoscopy done in a clinic office.
What happens during my laryngoscopy?
Surgical laryngoscopies and clinic office laryngoscopies have different processes.
Laryngoscopy in an office clinic
- In some cases, your provider may use a small, tilted mirror and a bright light to examine your vocal cords.
- They also may use a flexible laryngoscope. This is a flexible fiberoptic scope inserted through your nose to look down your throat.
- Your provider will apply a small amount of numbing medicine and decongestant to your nose. The numbing medication may taste bitter.
- You may feel an urge to cough, but that urge is likely to subside.
- Your provider will then gently pass the flexible laryngoscope into a nostril and look down your throat.
- They may have you speak during the test to see how your voice box is working.
- In some circumstances, they may use a special scope that’s inserted through your mouth.
Direct laryngoscopy in the operating room
Your provider will use a special laryngoscope that’s inserted through your mouth. Because you had general anesthesia, you won’t feel anything.
What happens after my laryngoscopy?
Different things happen depending on whether you had a surgical laryngoscopy or one done in an office clinic.
In-office clinic laryngoscopy
- Your nose and throat may feel numb for a few minutes after the procedure. This usually wears off in about 20 minutes.
- You should avoid eating or drinking while your mouth and throat are numb.
Operating room direct laryngoscopy
- You’ll go to the recovery unit after surgery to recover from anesthesia so your provider can watch for any complications or problems.
- You may have a mild sore throat and/or hoarseness. Your provider may want you to rest your voice for a while after your surgery.
What are laryngoscopy complications or side effects?
It is rare to have any complications with in-office flexible laryngoscopy. Please talk to your provider about any specific concerns you may have. Direct laryngoscopies done in the operating room are usually safe, but there can be complications including:
- Reaction to anesthesia.
- Chipped or broken teeth.
- Tongue soreness or a temporary taste change.
- Bleeding in your throat (very rare).
How do healthcare providers use laryngoscopes to perform biopsies?
Biopsies are procedures to remove tissue for examination. Providers retrieve a tiny piece of throat tissue, using a tiny tool that looks like a miniature tweezer. They pass the tool through a laryngoscope to retrieve tissue. Providers may do biopsies as part of a direct laryngoscopy done in an operating room. In some circumstances, they may do biopsies in the clinic (office).
Is laryngoscopy the same as endoscopy?
Endoscopies and laryngoscopies are both tools healthcare providers use to look inside your body. In both cases, providers use tubes equipped with lights, lens and sometimes video cameras. The difference is a laryngoscope is specifically designed to view your larynx.
Results and Follow-Up
When should I have results from my laryngoscopy?
Results from in-office flexible laryngoscopy are immediate. But if providers obtain a tissue sample as part of a biopsy or if they do a culture, it may take several days for the results to come back. This is more common with direct laryngoscopy in the operating room. Ask your provider when you can expect to have test results.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Typically, laryngoscopies are safe tests without significant risks. But you should call your provider if:
- You have a sore throat or throat pain that continues for more than a few days.
- You have a fever of 100.4 ֯ Fahrenheit or more (38.3 ֯ Celsius.) Fever may indicate you have an infection.
- You cough up more blood than you expect.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
There are several reasons why your healthcare provider may recommend you have a laryngoscopy. You may have a persistent sore throat. Your voice might sound hoarse and isn't improving. Or, you may have several symptoms that indicate something is affecting your larynx. Regardless of why you’re having a laryngoscopy, your provider will explain the process from start to finish. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask your provider. They’ll be glad to answer your questions so you feel comfortable about the test.
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