The throat is one of the most complex parts of the human body. It starts from the pharynx and extends to the upper end of the esophagus. Immediately following the pharynx are the larynx, epiglottis, larynx and the esophagus. The throat is responsible for performing a large number of functions, namely the swallowing, speaking and breathing. It also prevents the accumulation of saliva and helps in the process of digestion.
Throat Anatomy Pictures & Diagram
Different Parts of the Throat
The Human Throat Anatomy can mainly consists of the following parts.
- Vocal cords
Each of these parts in the Throat anatomy has been discussed in detail in the following sections:
Adenoids is the term given to the lymphatic tissue collection. These tissues are located towards the rear side of the nasal passages which in turn lie in the nasopharynx. The adenoids are also known as the “lymph glands”. In terms of appearance, they look very similar to the tonsils. The two also share almost the same location except that the adenoids are located slightly higher than the tonsils. After birth, the adenoids keep growing in size and only reach their full size during the early childhood. After these lymph glands have reached their full size, they start to decrease in size and by the time of adolescence, they will have disappeared almost completely.
The adenoids are an integral part of the immune system and help the body to fight against various infections arising out of the attacking viruses and bacteria that mainly enter the body during inhalation. The adenoids make use of different cells as well as antibodies in order to protect the throat against infections. However, their role is not highly important, mainly because the body also has several other mechanisms for fighting infections, thereby offering only a lesser role to the lymph glands.
Since the adenoids gradually reduce in size starting from childhood, they are not generally associated with health issues and complications. However, in rare cases, these glands swell up and thereby require treatment. The enlargement occurs mainly as a result of infection from bacteria and viruses. At other times, they are also caused by allergies.
Tonsils refer to the pair of soft lymphatic tissue lumps that lie at the back of the throat. They have an appearance similar to that of the adenoids. The only difference is that they are found towards the rear part of the throat instead of the nasal passages. Although rare, another serious complication arising with the tonsils is cancer. The tonsils are also included in the body’s immune system. They mainly help in defending the body against infections and illnesses caused by germs that enter the body during inhalation or eating. It is the antibodies and cells that are present in the tonsil that helps in the fighting off these malicious foreign microbes. Although the body also has several other ways to deal with infections, the tonsils form the first defense line. The size of the tonsils is not constant and may vary considerably form one person to the other.
The most problem arising with tonsils is tonsillitis, a condition during which the tonsils get infected. There are also other less common conditions such as quinsy and glandular fever that can affect the tonsils. Although rare, another serious complication arising with the tonsils is cancer. If repeatedly shows infections, it can be beneficial to go for surgeries and resolve the issue once and for all.
The epiglottis is simply a flap composed of soft cartilage which is then covered by a mucous membrane. The epiglottis is directly attached to the posterior part of the tongue and covers the cavities lying behind it. Its main function is to prevent the liquids and food from going over to the lungs. The epiglottis is controlled involuntarily. It automatically closes every time we swallow something, even saliva. At the time of breathing, the epiglottis lies vertically and automatically adjusts itself into a horizontal placement at the time of swallowing so as to prevent the liquid and food items from entering the trachea. Hence, the position of the epiglottis keeps changing between the larynx and the pharynx depending on whether you are swallowing or breathing.
Since the epiglottis folds itself across the trachea at the time of swallowing, the contents are directly passed on to the esophagus. However, in some cases, it may fail to do so thereby allowing the contents to move down a different lane. When this happens, the person experiences choking, thereby developing a red face and an unpleasant sensation. In some cases, the epiglottis may also get inflamed thereby leading to the blockage of the trachea and breathing issues.
The uvula is a very small section of the throat made up of tissues. It extends from the rear part of the throat or the soft palate. The uvula appears oval in shape and resembles a teardrop. It is known as Uvula namely because its shape forms an outline of the alphabet U. The function of the Uvula is the same as that of the epiglottis that is to prevent the food and fluids from entering the Uvula and instead of sending them down the esophagus. This is made possible mainly because of a muscle known as the musculus uvulae which allows it to change its shape during different functions. At the time of swallowing, these muscles become rigid and seal the opening that leads to the trachea. The Uvula also has a key role in musical performances. It is the main part of the Throat anatomy that allows singers to produce a wavy sound technically known as the vibrato. With the help of uvula, the singers are able to modulate the scale of the vibrato. The uvula is also responsible for various other types of sounds that are produced while talking and breathing.
Some of the common problems affecting this part of the Throat Anatomy are:
- Infection caused due to bacteria and viruses. The Throat anatomy pictures reveal an inflamed condition and the medical term used for this is uvulitis. Sometimes, uvulitis is also caused by dehydration
- VPI or the Velopharyngeal insufficiency. This is a condition in which the uvula does not close properly due to which the air gets to travel down the nasal passage thereby giving rise to a nasal ton while speaking.
- If the uvula fails to completely cover the nasopharynx while swallowing, the excess food can enter the nasal cavity thereby leading to a nasal regurgitation of the food.
- Snoring occurs when the uvula is too flabby thereby causing heavy vibrations while sleeping
- A fleshy and flabby uvula can also give rise to sleep apnoea, a condition in which the concerned person experiences a disturbed sleep pattern due to the interruption while breathing. Surgically removing some portions of the uvula can help resolve the issue.
- Sometimes, when the Uvula has been infected touching it can lead to a gag reflex during which the undigested food from the body is expelled out.
The larynx is located above the trachea and is also known as the voice box. It is made up of cartilage and soft tissues. The larynx appears in the Throat anatomy front view as a projection which is also known as Adam’s apple and is clearly visible with the eye. The larynx is also the part of the Throat anatomy that connects the pharynx and the trachea. The two main functions of the larynx are to prevent the food from entering the lungs through the trachea and to help in sound production by creating specific vibrations. The larynx comprises mainly if three parts – the glottis, the subglottis and the supraglottis. The glottis is the middle portion of the larynx. It is where the vocal cords are located. The upper part of the larynx made up of tissues is known as the supraglottis while subglottis refers to the tissues at the bottom that connect the trachea and the larynx. The larynx is made up of a total of nine different types of cartilages. Some of these are paired cartilages while others are not. These cartilages offer support to the larynx and also help in retaining the shape of the skeleton in the area. Some support is also offered by the vagus nerve that lies alongside the larynx. Some of the common issues associated with the larynx are polyps, nodules, ulcers, and laryngitis. People who are used to frequent smoking and drinking alcohol may also suffer from throat cancer.
The pharynx is located at the top of the air passage in the posterior part of the nasal passages and the mouth. Starting from there, it runs all the way down to the beginning of the esophagus. The pharynx is often mistaken for the larynx. However, it is a different part located above the esophagus, trachea and the larynx. It forms a part of both the digestive as well as the respiratory systems. Pharynx also has a role in the production of sound while speaking and singing.
The Throat anatomy diagram divides the pharynx into three parts – the nasopharynx, the oropharynx and the laryngopharynx. The nasopharynx is the uppermost part of the pharynx and extends down from the base of the skull to the nasal passages, hence the name. The Eustachian tubes, which have a role in controlling the air pressure within the ear also open up to the nasopharynx. The oropharynx is that part which is located in the rear part of the mouth and comprises of the epiglottis, uvula and the tonsils. The laryngopharynx is that part which is located towards the bottom of the oropharynx and extends from the larynx up to the epiglottis.
The most common problem arising with the pharynx is pharyngitis, which is a condition in which Parts of the throat and mouth get infected. Dysphagia is also another one of the common problems with the pharynx. Sometimes it is a problem on its own, and in other cases, it arises as an indication of another underlying disease.
The vocal cords comprise of two membranous folds that are stretched over the larynx. The opening and closing of these membranes are controlled by the air pressure. The vocal cords are made of white bands of tissue and lie in the posterior part of the Throat anatomy attached through the cartilage fibers. The Anatomy of the throat and neck show that the inner portion of the vocal cords are empty while the outer portions are attached through several parts to the larynx that helps in regulating its shape and size.
Right above the vocal cords lie the vestibular folds that are also known as the false vocal folds. These thick layers of skin help in protecting the vocal cords and help in producing deeper vocal tones like that hear during chanting. The vocal cords are located just above the trachea, below the epiglottis. The difference in the size of vocal cords of the males and females is what gives rise to different pitches of voices. In females, the vocal cords can measure anywhere in between 12 and 17 mm while in males it can vary from 17 to 25 mm.
Vocal cords may be affected by problems such as nodules, sores, strain and vocal polyps. Other problems such as laryngitis, Reinke’s edema and vocal cord paralysis may also affect the vocal cords. Sometimes, the issues are caused due to an overuse of the vocal cords including frequent and intense coughing, continuous shouting and talking. Singers are also prone to strain their vocal cords thereby leading to the development of a polyp or a nodule. Staying in smoking environments for long hours at a stretch may also give rise to issues. Vocal cord problems can also arise from smoking as it tends to give rise to inflammation, leading to dry, aggravated and swollen vocal cords.
The trachea, also known as the windpipe looks very much like a bony tube. The Throat anatomy front view shows the trachea extending from the larynx up to the lungs. The ending portion of the trachea lies just posterior to the sternum or the breastbone. The trachea branches off into the left and right bronchi and finally into the alveoli. To better understand the Throat anatomy of this portion, think of the trachea as a tree trunk that has been turned upside down. The trachea is made up of C shaped rings that are made up of muscles and cartilage. This allows the Parts of the throat and neck around the trachea to stay upright and keeps the windpipe from collapsing even as the neck gets involved in a wide range of movements.
The trachea also allows the swallowed food and fluids to move down the esophagus without any obstruction. The cells present in the inner lining of the windpipe have very minute fringes that look almost like hair. There are also other cells that secrete a slippery and sticky substance. With the help of these cells, the trachea traps all the foreign particles that enter the body through the oral and nasal passages. Furthermore, the tiny fringes keep on pulsating in order to keep the throat devoid of mucus. Hence, the trachea is responsible for passing clean air down to the lungs and is an important part of the respiration system.
Tracheitis is the most common issue that arises with the trachea. Since it is caused by the bacteria present in the windpipe, this condition affects the children more as compared to the adults. During tracheitis, the entire trachea gets inflamed giving rise to a lot of pain. The person may also experience fever and extreme discomfort. Taking antibiotics can help in resolving the issue. However, if the condition gets serious, it is advisable to visit a doctor. Other conditions that can affect the trachea include infection of the upper respiratory tract, narrowing of the windpipe and weakened cartilage in the trachea.
Structure of the Throat
To understand the structure of the throat, it becomes necessary to go for a complete study of the Anatomy of the throat and mouth instead of studying only the throat in an isolated manner. The oral cavity starts from just behind the lips and extends till the pharynx. The oral cavity contains the tongue, teeth as well as a number of salivary glands that have their own unique roles in the process of digestion. The main salivary glands are present under the tongue and on the cheeks. Apart from the main glands, there are also a number of other salivary glands whose main purpose is to keep the inner lining of the oral cavity moist and lubricated at all times.
The Throat anatomy tonsils are located over clefts of tissues in the rear part of the throat. The tonsils are comprised of lymphoid tissue and have a huge role in the body’s immune system, especially during the early years of life. Lymphoid tissues of the same type are also found in the upper part of the pharynx as well as around the base of the tongue. They surround the opening to the gullet and the air passages and form a ring. These tissues are positioned in such a manner so as to offer them maximum exposure to the substances that have either been ingested or inhaled. Furthermore, they have deep crevices which increase their surface area. Due to a large surface area, they are capable of secreting a sufficient amount of antibodies that help in fighting off the virus, bacteria as well as other foreign pathogenic agents.
Next to the pharynx lies the larynx, also known as the voice box. It serves as an air passage and also offers protection to the lungs at the time of swallowing. Below the larynx are the vocal cords which is a pair of muscular bands. The vocal cords are covered by a thin membrane that keeps oscillating. It is the opening and closing of the vocal cord muscles that breaks up the flow of the air passing out of the lungs and produces different kinds of sound. It is also responsible for changing the pitch of the sound that is produced. Towards the opening of the airway lies the epiglottis, whose main function is to prevent the liquid and food from entering the lungs and assist in the process of swallowing.
Microscopic Throat Anatomy
The walls of the pharynx are comprised of the following layers:
- Buccopharyngeal fascia
- Muscle layer
- Pharyngobasilar fascia
- Mucous membrane
The hypopharynx and the oropharynx have mucous membranes that are made up of the non-keratinizing stratified squamous epithelium. Next to this is the lamina propria, an elastic layer. This layer also separates the epithelium from the pharyngobasilar fascia. The pharyngobasilar fascia is quite thick when it starts from the base of the skull. However, as it travels down, it forms a covering over the constrictor muscles and grows thinner and thinner in size. The muscles in the pharynx have a longitudinal layer on the inside and circular layer on the outside. This helps it to retain its shape better. The buccopharyngeal fascia is very thin and has a fibrous layer that contains the nerves and veins. It is posteriorly attached to the prevertebral fascia and the styloid process and laterally attached to the carotid sheath.
Sometimes, the pharynx may have a diverticulum which is the development of a pouch of tissues due to the herniation of the submucosa and the mucosa as well as the pharyngeal wall muscles. The diverticulum commonly develops over the posterior wall of the pharynx just below the inferior pharyngeal constrictor and above the cricopharyngeus muscle. If constant pressure is applied in the pharyngeal lumen, it may lead to the formation of a Zenker diverticulum. This is mostly a result of the cricopharyngeal hyperactivity and the uncoordinated peristalsis. If it develops at all, it is most likely to happen around the age of 70 and 80. The condition is more common in males as compared to the females. The common symptom of the condition is dysphagia. However, the patient may also experience other symptoms such as regurgitation, aspiration, weight loss and cough.
Important Functions of the Throat
Despite being so delicate in structure, the throat has a role in several different functions right form digestion to respiration to speech. Given below are the main functions of the throat.
One may think of swallowing as a very simple reflex once you have food inside your mouth. However, the actual process of swallowing begins much before any food is entered into the mouth. As the brain starts anticipating food, it activates the salivary glands. The salivary glands are present in the throat and the oral cavity. It lubricates the food passages thereby allowing for a smooth passage of food. It also helps in breaking down the food, thereby aiding in the process of digestion. A large number of muscles in the mouth and throat come into play during the Throat anatomy swallowing as the food gets pushed down the pharynx and into the esophagus. During this time, the epiglottis closes the larynx so that the contents do not pass down the air passage. If the epiglottis does not close properly while swallowing, it may result in choking as well as other serious complications.
- Sound Production
While taking, the air is pushed from the larynx. As the air passes through the vocal cords and the false vocal folds, sound is produced. The pitch and volume of the voice can be controlled by controlling the opening and closing of the vocal cords. It is the extent of the pressure applied to the folds that help in determining the type of sound produced. Apart from speech, various other parts of the throat also have a role in producing different types of sounds and noises such as snoring, deep basal voice while chanting and so on.
Coughing is a reflex that arises as the air passages get irritated. This may arise out of irritants as well as infections. The muscles in the throat are used up to expel out the air forcefully. This might also cause expulsion of mucus that had been accumulating inside the throat owing to the infection. This can help in clearing the air passages and remove any irritants that had been causing the blockage.
The throat is a delicate organ with a large number of functions. It is also the only passageway for food air to enter the body. However, the foreign microorganisms, mainly bacteria, and virus may also use the same passage for entering the body, thereby leading to infections. The Throat Anatomy is such that these foreign bodies are encountered before they lead to anything serious. However, if they are powerful, it may lead to infection, inflammation, and irritation of the inner lining of the throat. Taking simple preventive steps can go a long way in preventing a large number of throat complications from occurring. Using protective masks in polluted environments and cold weather conditions, taking care not to over-strain the throat muscles, refraining from activities such as smoking and drinking, etc. can be helpful. If the problems are only minor, you can opt for home remedies and wait for a few days to see if it gets resolved before consulting the doctor.
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