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What Is a Fiber Optic Laryngoscope?

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  • Written By: Shereen Skola
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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A fiber optic laryngoscope is a tool used by doctors to perform a laryngoscopy, a procedure allowing medical professionals to look deeply at areas of the throat or voice box when a traditional examination isn't sufficient to make a diagnosis. There are two types: rigid and flexible. A rigid laryngoscope, also called an inflexible laryngoscope, is made of metal with a magnifying lens on the end and is usually used during surgery when a patient is asleep. A flexible fiber optic laryngoscope is a thin, bendable tube with a camera on the end and is used when a patient is fully awake to perform a flexible fiberoptic laryngoscopy. A rigid scope allows for the clearest picture, but a flexible fiber optic laryngoscope gives a more comprehensive view of the patient's throat and is a more comfortable and cost-effective choice for the patient.

A rigid fiber optic laryngoscope is usually made of stainless steel and has an angled magnifying lens on the end. This option gives the clearest picture of the targeted area, but because of its hard, straight shape, it offers a limited view. Rigid scopes are used most often to examine abnormal growths on the vocal cords during a rigid transoral laryngoscopy. Having a procedure using a rigid fiber optic laryngoscope can be extremely uncomfortable, so it's most often used under anesthesia during surgery.

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The flexible fiber optic laryngoscope is made of a small, thin cable that is inserted into the nose and gently pushed into the throat. The tiny camera on the end can be manipulated to see the back of the nose and mouth, areas of the voice box, and deep into the throat up to the hypopharynx, which connects to the esophagus. The picture is not as clear as that of the rigid fiber optic laryngoscope, but offers a much wider range of view, allowing medical professionals to see more areas of the throat and the actual vibration of the vocal cords. A flexible scope may be used during a normal office visit while the patient is awake and alert.

Medical professionals choose the type of fiber optic scope they plan to use based on what they need to see and what a patient will tolerate. Flexible scopes are most commonly used because they're the most comfortable option for the patient and don't include costly anesthesia. Choosing a flexible fiber optic laryngoscope also gives the doctor the ability to see most deeply into the throat, diagnosing potential problems quickly and easily.

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