Introducing: Ask a Doctor
At UTHSC ENT, we understand that patients need clear, helpful answers to their questions. We also know that a flood of new information can be overwhelming.
That’s why our department’s introducing Ask a Doctor: an ongoing series of posts that tackle Frequently Asked Questions about common issues. We hope these articles give you a better understanding of your situation and an easy path to treatment.
Today, we highlight a cutting-edge technique adopted by our voice specialists: stroboscopy.
Prepared by: Robert Frederick
Reviewed by: Dr. Sandra Stinnett
What is stroboscopy?
Stroboscopy is a type of examination that laryngologists (ENT specialists) may use to evaluate your vocal folds.
This technique allows your doctor to view the movement of your vocal folds in real time and extreme detail, making it the best diagnostic instrument for voice issues, or dysphonia.
Another advantage of using stroboscopy: it can be video-recorded. Your doctor can watch the video multiple times, pausing it when needed, and even watch it in slow motion to be more precise in identifying an issue. Additionally, having the recording helps us track your progress and response to treatment.
A camera, called an endoscope, with a strobe light attached to the end of it. The endoscopy assesses the motion, anatomy, and vibration of your vocal folds
How do I know if I need stroboscopy?
If you are experiencing issues with your voice (e.g. hoarseness, insufficient loudness, breathlessness, altered voice quality, altered pitch, or altered volume), you may have an underlying vocal fold issue.
Your doctor will likely recommend that you see a laryngologist if you have been experiencing these symptoms for longer than 4 weeks, or if you have a past history of smoking and heavy alcohol use that may cause concern for something more serious.
Your laryngologist may perform a stroboscopy exam to determine if your vocal folds are healthy, or to help suggest proper treatment if they are deemed unhealthy.
What should I expect from the examination?
The examination is not painful, but it may be slightly uncomfortable.
There are two types of endoscope your specialist may use: flexible and rigid. Flexible endoscopes are initially inserted in one of your nostrils; rigid endoscopes are inserted orally.
In both of these procedures, the scope will be advanced down to your throat until your laryngologist can adequately view your vocal folds.
The following steps are similar for both rigid and flexible endoscopy:
-Your specialist will spray a numbing medicine in one of your nostrils (flexible scope) or in your mouth (rigid scope).
-They will place a microphone on the outside of your neck to determine the frequency of the sound your vocal folds produce.
-You may experience a gag reflex when the scope is inserted, but this is normal.
-You will be asked to say different words and sounds as your doctor views your vocal folds move with strobe light.
Note: your doctor may need to remove and insert the scope multiple times in order to get the best video quality of your vocal folds.
Why am I instructed to make sounds during my exam?
Speaking, or phonation, is the result of your vocal folds vibrating.
Your vocal folds vibrate faster when you make sounds with higher pitch, and slower during sounds with lower pitch. Certain hints at what is wrong with your voice may only be discovered at specific pitches. Additionally, sustaining a vowel sound or saying phrases may help your doctor identify a potential tremor or lack of tone in your vocal folds, respectively.
Your doctor will ask you to say specific words and sounds because it will allow them to evaluate your vocal folds in a very detailed manner to make sure all parts are working correctly.
How can our Dream Team help?
UTHSC ENT’s Dream Team provides world class treatment in your hometown. Our resident Voice Box Doctor, Sandra Stinnett M.D., is a renowned voice specialist and expert in stroboscopy.
If you have a voice issue, Dr. Stinnett should be your first call!