Laryngoscopy is a visual examination below the back of the throat, where the voice box (larynx) containing the vocal cords is located.
The procedure is done by using mirrors and a light source at the back of the throat or by inserting a thin instrument (a laryngoscope) through the nose or mouth into the throat. This scope lights and magnifies images within the throat.
Laryngoscopy 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. It also can help diagnose problems in the vocal cords.
The procedure 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.
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, vocal cords, and hypopharynx. Indirect laryngoscopy is not typically used with kids because it tends to cause gagging.
Fiber-optic and direct laryngoscopy examinations, which see deeper into the throat via either a flexible or rigid telescope, usually are done by an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT). Rigid telescopes are more often used as part of a surgical 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.
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