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What Is the Anatomy of the Throat?

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  • Written By: Lauren Romano
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Images By: Tony Alter, Alila Medical Media, Jackf, Arsdigital
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2016
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The anatomy of the throat consists of five major parts — the esophagus, trachea, vocal cords, tonsils and epiglottis. The esophagus is the tube that allows for proper swallowing. Also known as the windpipe, the trachea is what helps transport air to the lungs. The vocal cords, located in the voice box, are what help produce noise. Tonsils are lumps of tissue located in the back of the throat, while the epiglottis is a small flap that prevents food from going into the lungs.

Allowing a person to properly swallow, the esophagus is approximately 9 inches (23 centimeters) long and located between the spine and the trachea. It's a muscular tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. Walls of the tube contract and force the food down into the stomach.

The trachea is the part of the anatomy of the throat that helps get air to the lungs after it initially passes through the larynx. When exhaling, the air goes from the lungs, through the trachea, then the larynx and finally out the nose and mouth. It also goes by the name of windpipe or, in Old English, weasand.

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Vocal cords are the part of the anatomy of the throat that permits a person's voice to happen. The cartilage in front of it is what is referred to as the “Adam's apple” in men. The cords tighten closer together as speaking occurs and a person's voice is produced as air passes between the cords and causes them to vibrate. The lips, teeth and tongue are what helps a person form that noise into words.

Tonsils are oval-shaped lumps in the back of the throat. Some think the tonsils have no purpose, but they are the part of the anatomy of the throat believed to help filter viruses and bacteria; however, it's debatable about whether this is only the case in children under one year of age or whether it's all ages. Tonsillitis is caused when the tonsils swell, and although it can clear up on its own, repeated bouts or severe cases may require removal of the tonsils.

The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage that prevents food from getting into the lungs. During swallowing, the epiglottis flattens and covers the larynx; otherwise the flap is upright and the muscles are relaxed. Without this little flap, choking or coughing would occur every time eating takes place.

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