September 25, 2011

Oral Exam Using a Finger

For a good physical exam, physicians use their senses (eyes, ears, nose) to detect disease processes that may not necessarily be obvious to a lay person. Beyond these obvious senses, fingers and hands are also utilized to feel for unusual bumps or masses that may not be obvious to the naked eye.

Take a neck mass for example. Neck masses may not be necessarily visible, but by feeling the neck, may become obvious. To use an analogy, a bowling ball under a mattress may not necessarily be obvious, but if you lay on the bed, would become painfully obvious.

Physicians also use the hands/fingers to examine areas that may not be visible... such as the unpleasant digital rectal exam (inserting a finger up a bung-hole) which is done to detect blood in the stool, rectal/anal cancers, anal muscular incompetence, etc.

However, I find it odd that the mouth is a body area that is not often "felt" around... physicians included.

A finger can appreciate unusual mouth pathology that may not necessarily be appreciated by looking alone. Furthermore, just like the rectal exam, a finger can appreciate base of tongue pathology that cannot be visualized by having a patient go "ah".

I truly feel that actor Michael Douglas would have been diagnosed with his base of tongue cancer much earlier if only a doctor stuck a finger and swept that back area of the tongue. One can "feel" cancer as it is rock hard and very tender. True... it may cause a person to gag, but for a cancer test, it's dirt cheap, fast, and reliable.

However, it does not just have to be areas of the mouth that can not be seen. Even for those ulcerations and bumps of the mouth that one can clearly visualize (or not), it does help to touch it. Is it hard? Soft? Ulcerated? Tender? Grooved? Papillated? Fungating? Rubber-like? Blottable?

Each characteristic provides information to achieve a more accurate diagnosis.

To an ENT way of thinking, if a doctor regularly performs a digital rectal exam, than one can certainly do the same thing at the other end. It's less invasive and provides just as much information.

Say "ah"!!!
Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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