What Is Laryngoscopy?

Medically Reviewed by Robert Brennan on April 03, 2023
4 min read

Doctors sometimes use a small device to look into your throat and larynx, or voice box. This procedure is called laryngoscopy.

They may do this to figure out why you have a cough or sore throat, to find and remove something that’s stuck in there, or to take samples of your tissue to look at later.

It helps you talk, breathe, and swallow. It’s at the back of your throat and at the top of your windpipe, or trachea. It houses your vocal chords, which vibrate to make sounds as you speak.

When doctors need to look into your larynx and other nearby parts of your throat or put a tube into your windpipe to help you breathe, they use a small hand tool called a laryngoscope.

Modern versions of the tool often include a small video camera.

Your doctor may do it to find out why you have a sore throat that won’t go away or to diagnose an ongoing problem such as coughing, hoarseness, or bad breath. They also might do one when:

  • You have something stuck in your throat.
  • You have trouble breathing or swallowing.
  • You have an earache that won’t go away.
  • They need to examine something that could be a sign of a more serious health problem such as cancer.
  • They need to remove a growth.

There are several ways your doctor may do this procedure:

Indirect laryngoscopy. This is the simplest form. Your doctor uses a small mirror and a light to look into your throat. The mirror is on a long handle, like the kind a dentist often uses, and it’s placed against the roof of your mouth.

The doctor shines a light into your mouth to see the image in the mirror. It can be done in a doctor’s office in just 5 to 10 minutes.

You’ll sit in a chair while the exam is done. Your doctor might spray something into your throat to make it numb. Having something stuck in your throat might make you gag, however.

Direct fiber-optic laryngoscopy. Many doctors now do this kind, sometimes called flexible laryngoscopy. They use a small telescope at the end of a cable, which goes up your nose and down into your throat.

It takes less than 10 minutes. You’ll get a numbing medication for your nose. Sometimes a decongestant is used to open your nasal passages as well. Gagging is a common reaction with this procedure as well.

Direct laryngoscopy. This is the most involved type. Your doctor uses a laryngoscope to push down your tongue and lift up the epiglottis. That’s the flap of cartilage that covers your windpipe. It opens during breathing and closes during swallowing.

Your doctor can do this to remove small growths or samples of tissue for testing. They can also use this procedure to insert a tube into the windpipe to help someone breathe during an emergency or in surgery.

Direct laryngoscopy can take up to 45 minutes. You’ll be given what’s called general anesthesia, so that you will not be awake during the procedure. Your doctor can take out any growths in your throat or take a sample of something that might need to be checked more closely.

Your doctor might want to take X-rays or do other imaging tests before a laryngoscopy.

If you’re going to have a direct laryngoscopy under general anesthesia, you’ll be told not to eat or drink anything before you go in.

You might also be asked to stop taking some medications for as long as a week before you have it done.

It’s rare to have problems after a laryngoscopy, but it can still happen. Some of these complications include:

If you were given anesthesia, you might feel nauseous or sleepy afterward. You might have a dry mouth or a sore throat. These are common reactions to the anesthesia.

But if you find yourself in increasing pain, running a fever, coughing or vomiting blood, having trouble breathing or swallowing, or having chest pains, you should call your doctor.

You can suck on ice or gargle with salt water to ease a sore throat. Over-the-counter pain relievers or throat lozenges can help as well.

If doctors took a tissue sample, the results may take 3 to 5 days to come back. They might schedule another appointment to talk about what they found.