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Laryngoscopy

Definition

Laryngoscopy is an exam of the voice box and vocal cords.

The Larynx
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Reasons for Procedure

This procedure is done to check for and diagnose problems inside the throat. It is most often done to:

  • Help promote breathing during surgery or due to health problems
  • Look for causes of breathing or speaking problems
  • Find the cause of a lasting cough, bloody cough, hoarseness, throat pain, or bad breath
  • Look for a cause for repeated earaches
  • See a mass in the throat
  • Remove something from the throat that was swallowed by accident
  • Take tissue samples from inside the throat—biopsy
  • Remove polyps inside the throat

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Pain
  • Vomiting and gagging
  • Swelling
  • Cuts on the bottom of the tongue from stretching it over the teeth
  • Nosebleeds if the scope is passed through the nose
  • Breathing problems from swelling

Smoking may raise the risk of problems.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
  • Fasting before the procedure, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from the procedure
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as imaging

Anesthesia

The doctor may give:

Description of the Procedure

There are two methods to do this procedure. Images may be taken during either type.

Indirect

You will sit in a chair. A headrest will push your head and jaw forward. Your tongue will be covered with gauze and held by the doctor. You will be asked to breathe through your mouth as if you were panting. A warm mirror will be held to the back of the throat. The doctor will ask you to make a certain sound. The larynx will be viewed. Other needed procedures may be done at this time.

Direct

The method may be done after the indirect method. It allows the doctor to get a better view. It may also be used if your gag reflex did not allow for an indirect exam. A special scope will be placed through your nose or mouth, then passed into your throat. The larynx will be checked through an eyepiece on the scope or a camera. Other needed procedures may be done at this time.

How Long Will It Take?

The indirect method only takes a few minutes. The direct method takes about 5 to 45 minutes, depending on the problem.

Will It Hurt?

A sore throat is common in the first few days. Medicine and home care help.

Postoperative Care

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may give you pain medicine.

At Home

It will take about a week to recover. Coughing and throat clearing may need to be avoided during this time.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Coughing, spitting up, or vomiting blood
  • Pain that you cannot control with medicine
  • Breathing or swallowing problems
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
https://www.entnet.org

American Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
http://www.cdhf.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Airway management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/procedure/airway-management. Accessed December 15, 2020.

Brindley PG, Beed M, et al. Airway management outside the operating room: how to better prepare. Can J Anaesth. 2017 May;64(5):530-539.

Laryngoscopy. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/laryngoscopy.html. Accessed December 15, 2020.

Laryngoscopy and biopsy. NetDoctor website. Available at: https://www.netdoctor.co.uk/procedures/surgical/a4655/laryngoscopy-and-biopsy. Accessed December 15, 2020..

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 4/21/2021