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What Is the Cricoid Cartilage?

Applying pressure to the cricoid cartilage reduces the risk of vomiting during patient intubation.
The trachea is also called the windpipe.
The cricoid cartilage forms the lowermost portion of the larynx.
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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 25 July 2014
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The cricoid cartilage is a ring-shaped structure that forms the lowermost portion of the larynx, which is commonly known as the voice box. Cartilage is a very tough connective tissue that covers the joint ends of bones and acts as a surface for articulation, allowing the joints to move smoothly. It is not as rigid as bone and partially or fully forms some of the flexible structures of the body. These structures include the external ear, the septum or dividing wall of the nose, the connections between the ribs and the sternum and the multiple horseshoe-shaped structures that provide shape, support and some protection for the trachea, more commonly known as the windpipe.

All tracheal cartilage except for the cricoid cartilage completely wraps around the windpipe and easily can be felt in the front of the neck. To do so, it usually is best to begin by touching the middle part of the neck to palpate the voice box, where strong vibrations of the vocal cords can be felt during speech. The structure directly underneath is the cricoid cartilage, which, although flexible, also is rigid in adults. Children have a much less rigid cricoid cartilage that will harden as they mature.

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Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are among the health care providers that most frequently must ensure an open airway and adequate respiration in emergency medical situations when providing care for a patient who might require what is known as endotracheal intubation. This refers to the invasive insertion of a tube into the trachea for complete control of the airway and superior ventilation. During this procedure, an EMT or paramedic often will apply what is called cricoid pressure. The application of direct pressure on the cricoid cartilage by pressing with the index finger and thumb compresses the esophagus, which is the structure that leads to the stomach and sits directly behind the trachea.

There are two reasons for applying pressure to the cricoid cartilage. It reduces the risks of a patient vomiting during intubation, which can lead to life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. It also brings the vocal cords into the view of the medic performing the procedure. This allows him or her to avoid the danger of accidentally inserting the endotracheal tube into the patient's esophagus instead of into the windpipe. A study of the respiratory system that includes graphic images or detailed diagrams should show the exact location and appearance of the cricoid cartilage.

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Discuss this Article

anon330266
Post 5

It is the only complete ring cartilage surrounding the trachea.

MissCourt
Post 4

Wow I feel stupid. Guess I shouldn't have slept through class. I didn't know that cartilage was inside of our bodies so much. I thought that the only areas of our bodies that used it was in our nose and ears. I guess I should read a couple of medical books or something.

My first aid class explained choking hazards and how tracheotomies, but nothing as complicated as how to locate the patient's voice box. I'm kind of happy that he didn't, because I think that should be left to professionals!

Saraq90
Post 3

@Tomislav - It does sound like it should be tougher, but I imagine in the end it is safer for us not to have any bones because if we were to break a bone in our voice box then the only thing stopping a loose piece of bone from going into our lungs would be our vocal folds!

And I wonder how much tougher the larynx area could be - it is made with nine cartilage areas, and our windpipe is made from cartilage as well! There is a bone called the hyoid bone that is not a part of the larynx but is connected to the area, but that is as close as you get to a bone in the larynx or voice box area.

Tomislav
Post 2

@speechie - I have not tried to perform the procedure as I was just a patient and am happy to report that the Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor that I went to; performed the procedure and I was quickly scoped and out of there.

He did teach me a little about my voice box so I was curious as to this cricoid cartilage that he talked about, I had always pictured the voice "box" as being tougher therefore made from bone as opposed to cartilage.

Are there any bones surrounding the cricoid cartilage or voice box?

Speechie
Post 1

I understand the importance of finding the cricoid cartilage area as one of my classmates was practicing scoping the vocal folds (which is inserting a tube with a camera on the end into another's airway to view the vocal folds).

My classmate ended up missing my voice box completely and going into the esophagus. Those around us could see the camera light glowing beneath my skin almost down to my collarbone area (or maybe it just felt that low to me).

Luckily the only danger in missing the voice box for me was a bit of a coughing fest as you can imagine!

Has anyone else had trouble finding the cricoid cartilage and the voice box area while performing the scoping procedure?

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