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Upper airway biopsy

Definition

Upper airway biopsy is surgery to remove a small piece of tissue from the nose, mouth, and throat area. The tissue will be examined under the microscope by a pathologist.

Alternative Names

Biopsy - upper airway

How the Test is Performed

The health care provider will spray a numbing medicine in your mouth and throat. A metal tube is inserted to hold your tongue out of the way.

Another numbing medicine flows through the tube down the back of the throat. This may cause you to cough at first. When the area feels thick or swollen, it is numb.

The provider looks at the abnormal area, and removes a small piece of tissue. It is sent to the laboratory for examination.

How to Prepare for the Test

DO NOT eat for 6 to 12 hours before the test.

Tell your provider if you take a blood thinner, such as aspirin, clopidogrel, or warfarin, when you schedule the biopsy. You may need to stop taking them for a little while. Never stop taking any medicines without first talking to your provider.

How the Test will Feel

As the area is being numbed, you may feel like there is fluid running down the back of your throat. You may feel the need to cough or gag. And you may feel pressure or mild tugging.

When the numbness wears off, your throat may feel scratchy for several days. After the test, the cough reflex will return in 1 to 2 hours. Then you may eat and drink normally.

Why the Test is Performed

This test may be done if your provider thinks there is a problem with your upper airway. It may also be done with a bronchoscopy.

Normal Results

The upper airway tissues are normal, with no abnormal growths.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Disorders or conditions that may be discovered include:

Risks

Risks for this procedure include:

  • Bleeding (some bleeding is common, heavy bleeding is not)
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sore throat

There is a risk of choking if you swallow water or food before the numbness wears off.

References

Frew AJ, Doffman SR, Hurt K, Buxton-Thomas R. Respiratory disease. In: Kumar P, Clark M, eds. Kumar and Clark's Clinical Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 24.

Mason JC. Rheumatic diseases and the cardiovascular system. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 94.

Yung RC, Flint PW. Tracheobronchial endoscopy. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 72.


Review Date: 11/4/2018
Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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