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What is the Hypopharynx?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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The hypopharynx is the area immediately below the posterior of the mouth, called the oropharynx, and it also is below the area posterior to the nose, called the nasopharynx. It can also, however, be correctly described as the area immediately above the openings of both the windpipe and the esophagus, better known as the "food tube." This area, along with the nasopharynx and the oropharynx, is one of three divisions of an entire area referred to as the pharynx. Laypeople tend to refer to the hypopharynx as the deep throat.

This area can be considered a part of the respiratory system and a part of the digestive system because of its proximity to the windpipe, which carries air into the lungs, and its proximity to the esophagus, through which food passes from the mouth into the stomach. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and other healthcare providers almost always associate the hypopharynx with the respiratory system because it is part of what is known as a person's airway. Obstructions in the hypopharynx can partially or totally block the airway, creating a medical emergency because air is not able to pass into the trachea to reach the lungs.

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Special medical instruments have been designed to permit healthcare providers to see the hypopharynx in order to perform emergency life-saving procedures for patients who are not breathing adequately or are not breathing at all. For example, an endotracheal tube can be placed directly into the trachea to ventilate the lungs of a patient who is not breathing. This is a life-saving procedure, but it can also be a very dangerous one because if the healthcare provider performing it cannot clearly see where he or she is placing the tube, the mistake of placing it into the esophagus instead of the trachea might be made. This would cause ventilation of the stomach instead of the lungs and can quickly cause brain damage or death of the oxygen-starved patient.

Although the hypopharynx is not an organ, the tissues of this area can suffer damage just like those of organs. A specially designed tube also figures among the medical instruments used in the airway of a non-breathing patient. If the EMT or paramedic does not properly lubricate the tube, damage to the walls of the hypopharynx can occur. Suctioning the airway of a patient also involves the medic working in the hypopharynx, where vomitus, foreign objects and even teeth that were broken during an accident might be lodged, causing an obstruction.

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Markus
Post 2

@goldensky - As you probably already know, the laryngectomy surgery will remove your uncles larynx or voice box and make a new opening in the neck for him to breathe through called a stoma.

The stoma is going to require a lot of special care, not only by your uncle but from the assistance of other family members as well.

The hospital staff will teach him the proper procedures for cleaning and caring for the stoma before he's released. Recovery depends on the person of course, but usually it'll take about two weeks or so.

The most important thing is keeping the airway clean and free from foreign objects because he'll be breathing from his neck for the

rest of his life. That includes shaving, swimming and facing the shower head.

Getting involved with a good cancer support group should help answer a lot of your questions. They'll have similar stories of their own to share that can be very helpful. It can also make the transitions a little bit easier to deal with.

goldensky
Post 1

My uncle has been diagnosed with hypopharyngeal cancer and is scheduled to have a full laryngectomy in two weeks.

In the meantime my family and I are trying to help him cope with his condition and discover everything we can about throat cancer especially the post operative portion and what to expect.

Does anyone have any advise for us?

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