A laryngoscopy allows doctors to investigate the larynx, or “voice box.” It can help determine the cause of certain symptoms, such as changes to the voice, difficulties breathing or swallowing, or a persistent sore throat or cough.

During a laryngoscopy, doctors can also take biopsy samples of irregular-looking tissues. They may also perform surgical procedures to help treat issues in the larynx.

This article discusses the purposes of a laryngoscopy and outlines what the procedure involves. It also provides tips on preparing for a laryngoscopy and describes the recovery process.

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According to the American Cancer Association (ACA), a laryngoscopy allows doctors to visualize the larynx and nearby structures in the throat.

There are three types of laryngoscopy:

  1. Direct laryngoscopy: This involves using a laryngoscope to observe the larynx and surrounding areas. A laryngoscope is a long, thin instrument with a light attached. Some laryngoscopes have a video camera attached. The doctor inserts the laryngoscope through the person’s nose or mouth and into their throat. A direct laryngoscopy typically takes place in the hospital.
  2. Indirect laryngoscopy: This in-office procedure involves shining a bright light down the back of the throat and using a small, tilted mirror to reflect an image of the vocal cords. These structures are a part of the larynx.
  3. Fiberoptic laryngoscopy: A doctor passes a small, flexible laryngoscope through the nose and into the throat to examine the voice box. This is also typically an in-office procedure.

When people use the term “laryngoscopy,” they are typically referring to direct laryngoscopy.

A person may need a laryngoscopy for several reasons:

  • To identify the cause of throat or vocal problems: A laryngoscopy can help doctors identify the cause of symptoms such as:
  • To follow up on imaging tests: Doctors may request a laryngoscopy to examine any irregular areas detected on an imaging test, such as a CT scan or MRI scan.
  • To acquire biopsy samples: Doctors can pass special surgical tools through the laryngoscope to collect biopsy samples from any irregular areas. They can later analyze these samples in the lab.
  • To treat certain issues in the larynx: Doctors can pass a small laser through the laryngoscope to burn away or “cauterize” issues such as vocal cord tumors or polyps. They may also use “cold steel” instruments to cut and remove growths.

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According to the ACA, doctors can usually perform a laryngoscopy as an outpatient procedure, meaning a person will not need to stay overnight in the hospital.

People typically undergo laryngoscopy under local anesthesia and receive a spray to help numb their throat. Alternatively, a person may require general anesthesia, depending on what doctors intend to do.

The doctor may ask the person to lie down or sit up for the laryngoscopy, depending on the type they are having.

A laryngoscopy may take around 10 minutes, but it depends on the type of procedure.

Before the laryngoscopy, a person’s medical team will ask them about any medications or supplements they are taking and whether they have any allergies.

Sometimes, doctors may ask individuals to stop taking blood thinners or certain other medications several days before the procedure. However, a person should not stop taking medication unless their doctor advises it.

People may also receive instructions to fast for several hours or more before the laryngoscopy.

Anyone having the procedure under general anesthesia will need to arrange for someone to pick them up from the hospital afterward, as they will be unable to drive.

Following a laryngoscopy, a person’s medical team will closely observe and monitor them for signs of complications.

An individual’s throat will be numb for several hours, making them unable to eat or drink during this period. Once the numbness wears off, they may experience some short-term symptoms, such as:

According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, a person should try to rest their voice for at least 2 days following the procedure. However, if they must speak, they should do so at their usual volume and avoid speaking in a whisper.

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According to the ACA, laryngoscopy is generally a safe procedure, though it does present a small risk of the following:

  • reactions to the anesthesia
  • bleeding in the throat
  • hoarse voice
  • infection

With Medicare, the average cost of a laryngoscopy with biopsy is $319 at an ambulatory surgical center and $703 at a hospital outpatient department.

If a person has a supplemental insurance policy, it may cover the cost of the procedure.

Below are answers to some common questions about laryngoscopy.

How painful is a laryngoscopy?

According to the ACA, a person may feel the need to cough as the doctor inserts the laryngoscope down their throat. However, they should not feel any pain due to the throat-numbing drugs taking effect.

Following the procedure, a person may have a sore throat for a few days.

Are you awake during a laryngoscopy?

Doctors typically perform a laryngoscopy under local anesthesia, meaning the person remains awake but is unable to feel pain due to the local anesthesia in their throat. Less commonly, doctors may perform a laryngoscopy under general ansesthesia, in which the person is asleep.

Whether a doctor performs a laryngoscopy under general or local anesthesia depends on several factors, such as the person’s overall health and the purpose of the laryngoscopy.

A laryngoscopy allows doctors to investigate the larynx and nearby structures in the throat.

The procedure can help doctors determine the cause of issues with the throat or voice, take biopsy samples, or treat problems in the larynx. Doctors typically perform a laryngoscopy using local anesthesia, but may recommend general anesthesia in some cases.

A laryngoscopy may cause some discomfort initially, but it should not be painful. It is generally a safe procedure, though a person should contact their doctor if they experience any unusual or persistent symptoms. These may indicate an infection or other complication that requires urgent treatment.