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An esophagoscope is a medical instrument that can be inserted into the esophagus in order to directly observe the inside of the throat. Esophagoscopes may be flexible or rigid, and typically feature a light source at their tips. Older models carry an image of the esophagus to the end of the scope by way of mirrors or optic cables. Newer esophagoscopes are commonly outfitted with miniature cameras instead. They may also include various accessories, such as a grasping claw to remove foreign material and a variety of brushes, scrapers, and curettes that allow biopsies to be performed.
The esophagoscope is designed to open the esophagus, which is naturally mostly closed, so that a clear image may be viewed by a doctor. Early esophagoscopes were little more than metal tubes that were inserted into the esophagus, in much the same way a sword-swallower performs his act. These were later improved with electric lights, greatly increasing their ability to return images from the dark recesses of the throat. Flexible scopes were created in the 1960s by arranging bundles of glass fibers so that they returned an image to the end of the scope even when bent into a curve.
In modern medical practice, both flexible and rigid esophagoscopes are used, depending on the procedure. Flexible scopes are able to pass through the stomach and into the duodenum, and tend to cause less trauma to the patient's throat. They can also be inserted through the nose rather than the mouth, which bypasses the airway more completely. Rigid scopes are better at expanding narrow passages of the esophagus, and are favored for removing foreign objects from the esophagus, and for performing biopsies in the upper reaches of the gastrointestinal tract.
In a normal esophagoscopy, an esophagoscope is passed into the esophagus through the mouth or nose, and is threaded through the esophagus, into the stomach and sometimes into the duodenum. Along the way, a physician checks for signs of irregularities that may interfere with swallowing or indicate possible cancers. If an irregularity is found, the esophagoscope may be used to biopsy a sample for further analysis. If a foreign body has become lodged in the throat, the scope may be fitted with a grasping claw to remove it.
Esophagoscopy is considered a non-invasive procedure, since it does not involve the cutting of any tissue. It is, however, almost always performed with the use of a local anesthetic and possibly a sedative, especially in the case of young children. Patients who undergo an esophagoscopy are often left with a sore throat. Complications, such as bleeding and soft tissue damage, are possible with this procedure.