Medical Tests 101: Esophageal pH Test and Laryngoscopy

geralt, 8084 images.

geralt, 8084 images.

I was out to lunch with a relative about a week ago. She has some serious pulmonary issues, and she started talking about “a disgusting, invasive” test her doctor wanted to do. I thought to myself, “see, you don’t have it so bad. There are people with worse conditions than yours, who have to have much worse tests than you’ve had done.”

Turns out, the test she was talking about is one I’ve already had done. Oh, the irony.

It started me thinking about the wide variety of medical tests I’ve had done since my health issues began when I was 17. There have been a lot. And while there are a lot of people who have to go through worse tests than I have, I thought that a new series here talking about what these diagnostic tests feel like, what they are, and how to prepare for them might be helpful to some readers out there.

So, let’s start with the test my relative and I discussed.

It turns out the test her doctor wanted to do wasn’t exactly the same one I had done, but they are very similar, so we’ll talk about both. I had an esophageal pH test, and she was supposed to have a laryngoscopy.

Both tests start the same way – with a tube threaded up your nose and down your throat. The tube is very, very thin, and very, very flexible. Your throat has two sections: your esophagus, where the food goes into your stomach, and your trachea, which leads into your lungs.

The esophageal pH test is to diagnose acid reflux or GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease).

In this test, which is the one I had, the tube goes up your nose and down your esophagus, where it is sort of attached to the wall of the muscle. The outside end of the tube is attached to a little pager-like device, which records how much acid reaches the end of the tube in your esophagus and what times it goes up. You go back to the doctor 24 hours later with a diet log, and check acid levels with what you ate. I was told to eat a lot of greasy, fatty food to really test my stomach. I remember a lot of Doritos and a McDonald’s Crispy McChicken. I haven’t had one of those since. Thank you, duodenum.

As I said, I had this test done when I was 17. My doctor – a pediatric gastroenterologist – actually inserted the tube while I was still under sedation after an endoscopy (a test story for another day), so I have no memory of the tube going in. I imagine it’s pretty uncomfortable.

When the doctor took the tube out the next day, she asked me to sort of snort – breathe with a lot of force out of my nose. She pulled the tube out at the same time as I snorted.

It felt incredibly weird. It didn’t actually hurt, but I could definitely feel the tube climbing up and out. It was sort of like when you’re eating a mozzarella stick, and you don’t completely bite through the cheese, and you end up swallowing a bite with the cheese still attached to the part outside your mouth? Except the feeling went all the way up through my nose.

For people who are having pulmonary issues, the test is called a laryngoscopy, and is a little different. In this case, the tube is appropriately called a larygoscope, and instead of going into the esophagus once it’s through the nose, it goes into the larynx (the area above the trachea), so that the doctor can look at your airway and see if everything is kosher.



This test is a little different, because you are awake while it’s happening, and usually just chilling in the doctor’s office. The laryngoscope has a camera on the end, so it just goes right up in there, scopes out your larynx and trachea, and then gets pulled out as soon as the test is done.

Now, under normal circumstances, the esophageal pH test tube is also put in while you’re awake. In both cases, a numbing spray is used in the back of the throat to help things go smoothly, but you’re definitely aware of what’s happening. I consider myself extremely lucky that I was asleep while my tube went in. There was quite enough trauma that day (again, a story for another time).

Have you had either of these diagnostic tests done? What was your experience?

One thought on “Medical Tests 101: Esophageal pH Test and Laryngoscopy

  1. Pingback: What It’s Like to be Sick | EmilyStarBlog

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