Laryngology is a subspecialty within otolaryngology. Laryngologists specialize in the treatment of disorders of the throat and larynx (voice box), including communication and swallowing disorders. Patients who require the care of a laryngologist are often individuals who use their voices professionally, such as singers, actors, public speakers or teachers.
Other patients who seek laryngological treatment are individuals troubled by perpetual hoarseness, chronic cough or sore throat, difficulty swallowing or problems with voice projection.
Causes of Laryngological Disorders
Laryngologists are trained to diagnose and treat the underlying causes of throat and voice problems. These causes may include:
- Overuse or abuse of the voice
- Anatomical abnormalities
- Polyps, nodules or cysts of the vocal cords
- Vascular lesions
- Gastroesophageal reflux
- Cancer of the larynx
Most frequently, a laryngoscopy is necessary for accurate diagnosis, but this procedure can often take place during a short period of time right in the doctor's office. This diagnostic test may be done a number of ways, but always involves the insertion of some type of endoscope into the mouth or nose and down the back of the throat.
Depending on the nature of the problem, a flexible or rigid tube may be used. The laryngoscope will always be fitted with a miniature camera so that the targeted area can be visualized and photographed for later analysis. At times, a tiny video camera, a miniature mirror or a pulsating strobe light may also be used during the examination. The laryngoscope, in addition to being a diagnostic tool, provides treatment options since the doctor can insert tiny surgical instruments through the scope in order to remove tissue for biopsy.
In certain cases, other diagnostic testing is necessary. When the patient is troubled by difficulty swallowing, for example, the laryngologist may administer a barium swallowing study.
In addition to surgical excisions performed during laryngoscopies, doctors have several other methods for treating disorders of the throat and larynx. At times, simple noninvasive treatments, such as breathing exercises, voice therapy, or medication for acid reflux may be all that is necessary to relieve symptoms. At other times, surgery may be necessary.
It is possible that a tonsillectomy will be required to alleviate pressure and inflammation in the throat or that a thyroplasty, during which a patch of synthetic mesh is placed on the vocal cords, will be recommended. Frequently injection laryngoplasty (vocal cord injections) are of help, although the injections may have to be repeated. In more serious cases of injury or disease, particularly when there is a malignancy present, a full or partial removal of the larynx (laryngectomy) may be performed. The type of surgery performed depends on the nature and severity of the patient's condition.