A laryngoscopy allows your surgeon to look at your throat and find out the cause of any problems. These might be problems with your voice, difficulties swallowing, or throat or ear pain. They can also check if you have any injuries in your throat, narrowing of your throat (strictures), or a blocked airway.
There are two ways to do a laryngoscopy.
- In a flexible laryngoscopy, your surgeon uses a thin, flexible, fibre-optic tube with a light and a camera lens at the end called a laryngoscope. They’ll pass the laryngoscope through your nose to the back of your mouth. It’s used in check-ups and to diagnose health problems.
- Rigid laryngoscopy uses specially designed tubes that your surgeon will pass through your mouth. They can then pass instruments through the tubes to remove any blockages in your throat. Or they can take a sample of tissue (biopsy), remove polyps (growths) from your vocal cords, or give you laser treatment.
An ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon will usually do both flexible and rigid laryngoscopy procedures.
Your surgeon will spend some time explaining how to prepare for your procedure.
You can have a flexible laryngoscopy as an out-patient procedure under local anaesthesia, which is usually in the form of a nasal spray. This will reduce the sensation of the laryngoscope passing through your nose and will stop you gagging when the tube goes down your throat.
Rigid laryngoscopy is done as a day-case procedure in hospital under general anaesthesia, which means you’ll be asleep during it. An anaesthetic can make you sick so it's important that you don't eat or drink anything for six hours before it. You might be able to have some water up to a couple of hours before – follow your anaesthetist or surgeon's advice. If you have any questions, just ask.
If you’re having rigid laryngoscopy, there’ll be some pressure on your top teeth from the laryngoscope. Your hospital might give you a gum shield to wear to protect them. If you have implants, caps, crowns or any other dental work, it‘s important to let your surgeon and anaesthetist know.
Being fully informed will help you feel more at ease and will allow you to give your consent for the laryngoscopy to go ahead. You may be asked to do this by signing a consent form. If you’re not sure you want to have the laryngoscopy, you can take more time to decide. Your surgeon won’t carry out the procedure until you understand and agree with what’s going to happen.
This usually takes about 10 minutes and you’ll sit down while you have it. First, your surgeon will spray the local anaesthetic into your nose. It has an unpleasant taste, and might make you cough. The numbing effect will last for about half an hour.
Your surgeon will then pass the laryngoscope through your nose and into the back of your mouth. To help your surgeon to see your entire throat, they might ask you to:
- stick your tongue out as far as possible
- take some deep breaths through your nose
- make some sounds so they can see your vocal chords
The camera lens on the end of the laryngoscope will send pictures from the inside of your throat to a monitor.
This usually takes about half an hour and you’ll need to lie on your back while you’re having it done. Before you lie down, remove any dentures or dental plates, contact lenses, glasses and jewellery. Once the general anaesthetic has taken effect, your surgeon will carefully pass the laryngoscope down your throat. They might look directly into the laryngoscope or at images on a monitor.
If necessary, your surgeon will take a biopsy, which is a sample of tissue. They’ll pass instruments through the laryngoscope to take the sample. Your surgeon will send this to a laboratory to see what type of cells they are, and if they’re cancerous or not.
If you have general anaesthesia, you’ll need to rest until the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off. You’ll then be able to go home when you feel ready, but ask a friend or relative to drive you home. It’s a good idea for them to stay with you for the first 24 hours too.
If you have a local anaesthetic, you can go home straightaway. It may take around half an hour before the feeling comes back into your throat. Don't drink or eat anything until the local anaesthetic has worn off. If you’ve had a rigid laryngoscopy, don’t eat or drink anything for about two hours afterwards or sometimes even longer – wait until you can swallow normally.
If you have a biopsy, your results will be ready several days later and will usually be sent to the surgeon who recommended the laryngoscopy. At the hospital, your surgeon may discuss other findings from the laryngoscopy with you before you leave. Or you may be given a date for a follow-up appointment.
You're likely to have a sore throat after the laryngoscopy. This can last for a day or two after a rigid laryngoscopy. If you need pain relief, you can take over-the-counter medicines, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your pharmacist for advice.
Having a general anaesthetic can really take it out of you. You might find that you're not so co-ordinated or that it's difficult to think clearly. This should pass within 24 hours. In the meantime, don't drive, drink alcohol, operate machinery or sign anything important.
Most people don’t have any problems after a laryngoscopy, but seek urgent medical attention if:
- your voice changes
- you get any lumps in your neck
- you have earache
- your face hurts
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects of a procedure. Side-effects of a laryngoscopy may include:
- a sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- changes to your voice, especially if your surgeon takes a biopsy
- a stiff neck
- bleeding – you might see a bit of blood in your phlegm
- a nosebleed
This is when problems occur during or after the procedure. Complications of a laryngoscopy can include:
- difficulty breathing – this might be because of having the laryngoscope in your throat or because of the effects of the general anaesthesia
- damage to your airway or throat lining – particularly if you have a biopsy taken
- damage to your teeth
You can eat and drink as soon as you feel ready and the numbness caused by any local anaesthetic has worn off.
You might have a sore throat for a few hours after having a laryngoscopy. So you may want to stick to soft foods or liquids until you feel better.
If you’ve had a local anaesthetic for a flexible laryngoscopy, wait until this has worn off before you eat. This usually takes about half an hour.
If you’ve had a rigid laryngoscopy, and biopsies taken, your surgeon may ask you to not eat or drink anything for a couple of hours after your procedure. But you will be able to have something later the same day.
Will having a laryngoscopy affect my voice?
Your voice may be hoarse for a short while after the procedure. It's unlikely to have any long-term effects on your voice unless you have a medical problem that affects your voice box (larynx).
Your voice is made of tones produced by your larynx. The different sounds you make are formed by your tongue, teeth, lips and nose. Immediately after a laryngoscopy, especially if you had biopsies taken, you may have some swelling in your throat. This can affect the quality of your voice. Your voice may sound hoarse or you may find you completely lose your voice until the swelling goes down.
Your surgeon may suggest you rest your voice after laryngoscopy.
If you have a medical condition affecting your larynx, it's possible you may have long-term problems with your voice.
Ask your surgeon to explain the specific risks of the laryngoscopy procedure and how these risks apply to you.
What is an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon?
An ENT surgeon is trained in the surgical and medical treatment of conditions affecting the ears, nose, throat, head and neck.
ENT surgeons manage problems with hearing and balance, sinus infections, snoring and voice and swallowing disorders. They also deal with throat and neck cancers.
ENT surgeons are usually called Mr or Mrs rather than Dr and will have Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) after his or her name. The Royal College of Surgeons is responsible for the training and examination of surgeons, and supports surgical research in the UK.
If you think you need advice or treatment from an ENT surgeon, contact your GP. They will be able to recommend a reputable surgeon and give advice about how to choose where to be treated.
Your voice may be hoarse for a short while after the procedure but it's unlikely you’ll have any long-term problems.
Your voice is made of tones, which are produced by your larynx. The different sounds you make are formed by your tongue, teeth, lips and nose. Immediately after a laryngoscopy, especially if you had biopsies taken, you may have some swelling in your throat. This can affect the quality of your voice. It might sound hoarse until the swelling goes down.
Your surgeon may suggest that you rest your voice after having a laryngoscopy. This could be just for a day or two, or could be up to two weeks. Ask your surgeon what you should do.
An ENT surgeon is trained in the surgical and medical treatment of conditions that affect the ears, nose, throat, head and neck.
ENT surgeons treat problems with hearing and balance, sinus infections, snoring and voice and swallowing disorders. They also deal with throat and neck cancers.
ENT surgeons are usually called Mr or Mrs, Ms or Miss rather than Dr and will have Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) after their name. The Royal College of Surgeons is responsible for the training and examination of surgeons, and supports surgical research in the UK.
If you think you need advice or treatment from an ENT surgeon, contact your GP. They can recommend a reputable surgeon and give advice about how to choose where to be treated.
- ENT UK
020 7404 8373
- Nursing patients with sensory system problems (eyes, ears, nose, and throat). Oxford handbook of adult nursing (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2010
- Sunkaraneni VS, Jones SEM. Topical anaesthetic or vasoconstrictor preparations for flexible fibre-optic nasal pharyngoscopy and laryngoscopy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 3. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005606.pub2
- Laryngoscopy. Canadian Cancer Society. www.cancer.ca, accessed 23 February 2017
- Video laryngoscopy and fiberoptic assisted tracheal intubation. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 21 December 2015
- About microlaryngoscopy and oesophagoscopy ENT UK. www.entuk.org, last updated November 2012
- Vocal polyps and nodules. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 28 July 2015
- Collins SR. Direct and indirect laryngoscopy: equipment and techniques. Respiratory Care 2014; 59(6):850–64. doi: https://doi.org/10.4187/respcare.03033
- Vocal cord and voice box anatomy. Medscape. emedicine.medscape.com, updated 31 August 2015
- About us. ENT UK. www.entuk.org, accessed 23 February 2017
- Career in ENT. ENT UK. sfo.entuk.org, accessed 23 February 2017
- Who's who in the surgical team. Royal College of Surgeons of England. www.rcseng.ac.uk, accessed 23 February 2017
- Common concerns and FAQs. Royal College of Anaesthetists. www.rcoa.ac.uk, accessed 29 March 2017
- ENT UK
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Freelance Health Editor, March 2017.
Expert reviewed by Mr Anil Banerjee, Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant
Next review due March 2020.
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Graham Pembrey - Lead Editor
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Specialist Editor, Insights
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Fay Jeffery – Web Editor
- Marcella McEvoy – Specialist Editor, Content Portfolio
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor (on Maternity Leave)
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
Battle Bridge House
300 Grays Inn Road