Laryngoscopy

Laryngoscopy is a visual examination below the back of the throat, where the voice box (larynx) containing the vocal cords is located. It is an effective procedure for discovering the causes of voice and breathing problems, throat or ear pain, difficulty in swallowing, narrowing of the throat (strictures or stenosis), and airway blockages.
Laryngoscopy is relatively painless, but the idea of having a scope inserted into the throat can be a little scary for kids, so it helps to understand how a laryngoscopy is done.

Laryngoscopies are performed by ear, nose, and throat specialists (ENT). The three kinds of laryngoscopy are:

  • indirect laryngoscopy
  • fiber-optic (flexible) laryngoscopy
  • direct laryngoscopy

The indirect procedure can be performed in a doctor’s office using a small hand mirror held at the back of the throat. The doctor will aim a light at the back of the throat, usually by wearing headgear that has a bright light attached, to examine the larynx and vocal cords. Indirect laryngoscopy is not typically used with kids because it tends to cause gagging.

Fiber-optic and direct laryngoscopy examinations allow doctors to see deeper into the throat by using either a flexible or rigid telescope. Rigid telescopes are more often used as part of asurgical procedure in evaluating kids with stridor (a noisy, harsh breathing) and removing foreign objects in the throat and lower airway. They’re also used in collecting tissue samples (biopsies), laser treatments, and in locating cancer of the larynx.

Why Is Laryngoscopy Performed?

Laryngoscopy is performed to:

  • diagnose a persistent cough, throat pain, bleeding, hoarseness, or persistent bad breath
  • check for inflammation
  • discover a possible narrowing or blockage of the throat
  • remove foreign objects
  • visualize or biopsy a mass or tumor in the throat or on the vocal cords
  • diagnose difficulty swallowing
  • diagnose suspected cancer
  • evaluate causes of persistent earache
  • diagnose voice problems, such as weak voice, hoarse voice, breathy voice, or no voice

Direct laryngoscopy is done in an operating room and your child will be put under general anesthesia and not feel the scope in the throat. If needed, the doctor will remove foreign objects from the throat, collect tissue samples, perform laser treatment, or remove growths from the vocal cords. This can take as little as 15 to 30 minutes, but might take much longer if specific treatments are required.

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