A neck x-ray is a safe and painless exam in which a small amount of radiation is used to take images of the soft tissues of the neck.
During this exam, an x-ray machine sends a beam of radiation through the neck and an image is recorded on a special film or computer. As the MedlinePlus webpage indicates, this image includes structures such as the vertebrae (neck bones), the soft tissues located in front of the vertebrae, the adenoids and the tonsils (when they are enlarged). It also shows the oral and nasal airways, the nasopharynx (union between these two airways), part of the trachea and the epiglottis (the fold of skin that covers the trachea when a person swallows).
X-rays are black and white. The dense parts of the body that block the passage of x-rays, such as teeth and bones, appear white; the hollow parts, such as the airways, allow x-rays to pass through them and appear black.
What are they for?
X-rays are used to diagnose problems with the soft tissues of the neck. For example, symptoms such as stridor (loud breathing), dry cough and hoarseness may be due to an inflammation of different parts in or around the airway. This technique helps detect if the epiglottis is inflamed (a very rare condition known as “epiglottitis”) or if the tissues surrounding the vocal cords (croup) are inflamed. It can also detect infections in the area behind the throat.
Keep in mind
This procedure can take approximately 15 minutes; however, actual exposure to radiation is generally less than one second.
Related article: What is the difference between a CAT scan, an MRI and an X-ray?