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Laryngoscopy: Who Needs It, What It Is, and Why It’s Important

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Patients who are experiencing issues relating to the throat, voice box, or vocal cords will likely be sent to an ear, nose, and throat specialist for further evaluation and laryngoscopy. Physicians can perform this type of procedure using specialized equipment from medical device companies, known as a laryngoscope, either in their office setting or in a surgical setting, depending on the symptoms and needs of the patient.

Laryngoscopy Explained

Otolaryngologists, more commonly known as ear, nose, and throat specialists, inspect a patient’s vocal cords and voice box using a laryngoscope. These medical devices come in either a flexible or rigid format, and are unique tubes—typically with a light at the end—that provide the physician with a close-up view of an otherwise impossible-to-see area, allowing them to further diagnose and treat the patient. The procedure has three major types:

  • Direct, flexible laryngoscopy: During this procedure, the patient sits upright in a chair as a flexible laryngoscope is gently inserted through the nasal cavity before turning to slide down the throat area. It is common for patients to receive a spray form of local anesthetic to numb the area. This serves to both suppress the natural gag reflex and helps to limit any pain the patient may experience. The whole process is an outpatient procedure that takes around 10 minutes in the doctor’s office.
  • Indirect laryngoscopy: In the indirect method to laryngoscopies, physicians utilize a special mirror that is positioned at the back of throat to provide a view of the area needing assessment. Lighting for the procedure is provided by the doctor’s headlamp. As in the direct, flexible laryngoscopy, the patient is awake while sitting up and receives a spray form of local anesthetic to promote comfort and ease during the procedure. This method has roughly the same timeframe at 5 to 10 minutes, though each patient is different.
  • Direct, rigid laryngoscopy: This type of laryngoscopy is far more invasive and involved for both the patient and ear, nose, and throat specialist. Patients undergo direct, rigid laryngoscopies for things like polyp removal and taking biopsies to check for cancer. In this case, patients receive general anesthesia.

What prompts a laryngoscopy?

Patients who present with symptoms that match up with warning signs for polyps or cancer may be directed to have a laryngoscopy performed. Possible symptoms leading to a laryngoscopy recommendation include earache, issues related to swallowing, a feeling of a mass or lump in the region of the throat, throat pain, coughing up blood, a cough that is persistent in nature, or halitosis.

Prevalence of larynx cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, roughly 0.3 percent of women and men in the United States will receive the diagnosis of larynx cancer during their lives, per data collected 2012-2014. During the year 2014, it is estimated that 99, 914 Americans were living with this cancer. This means that it is extremely important for those presenting symptoms potentially related to cancer to seek out proper evaluation and diagnosis from physicians who have access to the proper tools from medical device companies to assess, diagnose, and treat issues of the throat.