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Pharynx Function

Pharynx Functionthe Pharynx, and larynx are usual disorders that affect the throat are caused by infection, but overuse can affect the vocal cords to cause hoarseness.

#What Do The Throat And Vocal Cords Do?

The throat, or pharynx, is a passage for food, liquids, and air to enter the body. Food and liquids pass into the digestive tract; air into the lungs. The vocal cords, situated in the larynx, are the mechanism responsible for voice production.

#What Parts Make Up The Throat And Vocal Cords?

The throat is a muscular tube lined on the inside with a mucous membrane. Its upper end starts behind the nose and it leads down to the esophagus.

The throat consists of four parts that perform different functions.

The nasopharynx is the uppermost section of the throat and is connected to the back of the nasal cavity. Air breathed in through the nose, and secretions from the nose and sinuses, travel into the nasopharynx before going down the throat.

Pharynx Function

#Vocal cords

The oropharynx is the middle part of the pharynx and also the widest. It serves as a passageway for both food and air.

The laryngopharynx is the lower region of the throat that branches into two parts. The passage-ways of food and air diverge here food going straight down the tube into the esophagus which leads to the stomach and air taking a curved path to the front where the pharynx joins the voice box.

The voice box, or larynx, is a muscular structure, ringed by cartilage, located in the front of the neck. At the bottom, it opens up into the windpipe, or trachea, which runs parallel to the esophagus and leads to the lungs.

The larynx contains the vocal cords which are two delicate folds of elastic tissue separated by a narrow space. The folds are attached to the walls of the voice box and open and close to let air in and out.

Its opening is protected by the epiglottis, a small piece of cartilage at the upper end of the voice box. Its function is to prevent food from entering the windpipe.

#Disorders Of The Throat And Vocal Cords

The majority of disorders that affect the throat and vocal cords are caused by infection, but overuse can also affect the vocal cords. Disorders include
Pharyngitis, or inflamed throatUsually a symptom of infection; may be accompanied by fever.
HoarsenessUsually caused by irritation or inflammation of the vocal cords or the muscles of the larynx; may be caused by overuse, or be a symptom of a cold or flu
LaryngitisInflammation of the larynx caused by infection or irritation, leading to hoarseness or loss of voice.
TonsillitisCaused by infection; results in inflammation of the tonsils.
QuinsyA collection of pus that forms around tonsils.
Benign tumors Including polyps, cysts, nodules or fibrous growths on the vocal cords. Left untreated, they may interfere with speaking.
Cancers of the pharynx and larynxMore likely to occur in those who smoke or consume large amounts of alcohol. Symptoms include hoarseness, chronic sore throat, and bleeding.


Problems arising from the throat and vocal cords include

Difficulty in swallowing
Pain in the throat
Loss of voice
Swelling or goiter

#How Do The Throat And Vocal Cords Work?

pharynx and larynx anatomy

The act of swallowing causes the larynx to move upward and forward. This, in turn, causes it to press against the epiglottis, which snaps shut and closes off the air passage, in order to prevent food and liquids from falling into the windpipe.

The act of swallowing is accomplished by the contraction of muscles in the throat. At the end of a swallow, the larynx moves down, the epiglottis opens, and the air can flow freely through again.

Occasionally, we swallow the ‘wrong way’ and instead of passing into the esophagus, a bit of food may fall into the larynx. This usually triggers a bout of coughing, which rids the air passage of the foreign body.

The air traveling through the larynx sup-plies oxygen to the lungs and also allows us to produce sounds. When you are silent, the vocal cords are relaxed and open wide apart, allowing air to be inhaled and exhaled easily.

When we speak loudly or sing, the vocal cords tense and are brought close together. As air is breathed out, it passes through the tensed cords, causing them to vibrate and produce a sound.

These are shaped into words by the tongue, lips, teeth, and palate. When whispering, the vocal cords are relaxed and do not play a part in the vocalization process.

The same also happens when they are unable to vibrate properly due to an illness such as laryngitis.

#How Are The Throat And Vocal Cords Examined?

The upper part of the throat can be examined by direct observation. The doctor will place a wooden or metal spatula on the base of your tongue and press it down. Then you will be asked to say ‘aah’, which provides a better view of the throat.

pharynx and larynx function

During the examination, the doctor may also feel under your neck and chin. If a cyst or tumor is suspected in the area a laryngoscopy will be carried out in which a tube is inserted into the throat to allow the direct vision of the affected area.

To examine the vocal cords the doctor will use a light source and a special mirror, as it is not possible to see them directly. Also, the back of the throat may be sprayed with a local anesthetic during this procedure to stop the normal ‘gagging’ reflex.


Talking or laughing with food in your mouth can cause food to get into the air passage and this may lead to choking, which can be fatal. Excessive alcohol can paralyze the swallowing mechanism, increasing the risk of food going down the trachea and not the esophagus.

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