Laryngoscopy is a diagnostic procedure performed by medical professionals to view the inner tissues of the larynx and throat, to determine if there are any signs of infection, obstructions in the tubular passages or abnormal growths deep within the nasopharyngeal tract. The larynx, commonly termed the voice box, is situated above the windpipe or trachea and houses the vocal cords that enable speech and the capability to produce sounds and noise from the throat. Hence, if severe defects or infections develop in the laryngeal tissues or the vocal cord filaments, it not only affects the ability to speak clearly but can also prompt breathing difficulties, earaches, continuous coughing and vocal cord paralysis. In such situations, a laryngoscopy is a useful method to investigate the cause and extent of damage to the larynx.
Why It Is Done:
A laryngoscopy is performed to examine the inner tissues of the larynx and look for any irregularities when the patient reports troubling symptoms in their throat, such as:
- Coughing with the discharge of blood
- Throat pain
- Prolonged bad breath i.e. halitosis
- Difficulty in chewing and swallowing food
- Hoarseness like in sore throat
- A bulging lump or unusual growth in the laryngeal tissues
- Intense pain in either one or both ears
Before undergoing a laryngoscopy, the doctor advises the patient to not consume food for 8 hours prior to the test, since they have to be placed under anaesthesia during the process. If the patient is already taking prescription pain-relieving drugs and blood-thinning medications for other underlying ailments, the physician advises them to stop ingesting these medicines one week before the laryngoscopy procedure.
A laryngoscopy protocol is generally performed by an ENT i.e. Ear Nose Throat specialist at a hospital or clinic under completely sterile conditions. Depending upon the type of test – indirect laryngoscopy or direct laryngoscopy, the entire procedure is completed as quickly as 5 minutes or may take up to 1 hour.
In indirect laryngoscopy, a local anaesthetic is sprayed in the throat of the patient, who is instructed to sit erect on a high chair, after which a mirror is inserted into the laryngeal tissues to highlight the inner regions, to look for signs of abnormal masses and remove them, or to spot any damage/infection in the larynx and throat. This test can be completed in 5 – 10 minutes.
During direct laryngoscopy, the patient will not be able to feel anything as they are strongly sedated or at times, even placed under general anaesthesia. The medical expert then inserts a laryngoscope i.e. a flexible telescope via the mouth, that traverses down the nasopharyngeal passages and the images are projected onto a computer screen. Following this, if any irregular growths are detected, the doctor removes them and if the patient is encountering challenges in swallowing food and gagging often, the exact cause can be identified by probing the interior tissues of the larynx. A direct laryngoscopy procedure can last for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
A laryngoscopy is predominantly a safe procedure that does not lead to any severe health complications. The patient may experience throat pain, swelling in the mouth and have a raspy tone of sound after the test, but these symptoms are usually very mild and subside within a day or two.
Since the patient is placed under anaesthesia during the procedure, they tend to feel a bit dizzy and hence, are advised to not drive immediately after and told to arrange for a family member to take them home.
A laryngoscopy test helps to determine if there are any infections like strep throat or structural damages to the larynx/voice box and the nearby areas of the throat. It also helps detect any irregular projections in the throat, such as objects lodged in the tubular passages which commonly happens in children, or odd lumps of tissue growths in adults. The doctor then prescribes appropriate treatment if throat infections are detected, recommends surgery if considerable damage has occurred in the larynx and removes any items or tissue growths from the throat.In some cases, if the doctor suspects the growth in the larynx could indicate throat cancer, then a biopsy sample is excised and probed in a laboratory. The biopsy results are available 3 – 5 days after the laryngoscopy procedure, while any images of the throat captured are analysed within a day. The doctor informs the patient of the results and advises them on the subsequent treatment, so there are no further difficulties in speaking, swallowing, breathing and ensuring normal functioning of the larynx.