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What Is the Pharynx?

The throat is also known as the pharynx.
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  • Written By: Christa Roy
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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The pharynx is the medical term for throat. It is included in both the digestive system and the respiratory system and is the direct passageway for both air to enter the lungs and food to enter the stomach. The throat is designed to allow humans to breathe or swallow food through the same passage without distressing the body. Speech and other vocalizations are possible because the vocal cords are located in the pharynx.

The human pharynx is divided into three parts: the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and laryngopharynx. The nasopharynx is at the base of the skull next to the upper surface of the soft palate and is most important to the digestive system and respiratory system. The pharyngeal tonsil can be found in this area. It's a mass of lymphoid tissue commonly known as the adenoid.

The oropharynx extends from the uvula to the epiglottis, a flap of tissue that prevents food from entering the lungs when swallowing. It allows for both food and air to pass through the body with the help of the epiglottis.

The larynopharynx connects to the esophagus. This part of the throat diverts food to the stomach by temporarily blocking the passage of air. When this happens, it prevents the body from choking or aspirating. This part of the pharynx is near the fourth and sixth cervical vertebrate.

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In general, a sore throat is called pharyngitis, and is an infection and inflammation of the pharynx. A medical professional uses a tongue depressor to examine the throat for an infection or other abnormalities. Infections are common, because both food and air pass through this area. When the tonsils become infected numerous times, they may be removed to prevent future infections.

Nasopharyngeal carcinoma is a cancer in the upper part of the throat. It is typically not found until it has metastasized to other parts of the body. This type of throat cancer is rare in the U.S.

The vocal cords are in the pharynx, and they are what makes speech and other noises possible. When air moves through the vocal cords and they rub across one another, it creates sounds. The human voice gives people the ability to communicate with each other, and most people have the ability to talk, sing, laugh, or scream.

Even though the pharynx is, simply, the throat, it has one of the most important tasks in the human body. It allows the body to breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The throat allows food to enter the stomach to provide the body with nourishment without choking or aspirating.

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Discuss this Article

cloudel
Post 4

@shell4life – I think it depends on the part of the pharynx that is affected, too. My aunt had different pharynx cancer symptoms than the ones you listed.

She had a sore throat that she just could not get rid of. She said that it felt like she was swallowing over a lump. She also had soreness in her ear.

Thankfully, the doctor caught the cancer in time to get rid of it. I suppose that if her lower pharynx had been the site of the cancer, she would have had the heartburn symptoms that you spoke of instead, which would not have pointed so readily to cancer.

shell4life
Post 3

It's no wonder that pharynx cancer goes undetected. Have you ever read a list of symptoms?

Basically, a person with pharynx cancer just has reflux and heartburn. Those are things that nearly everyone experiences from time to time, and many people deal with them on a daily basis but don't have cancer.

The only other symptom I have heard of is a pain in your chest after you have eaten a meal. However, a person could easily assume that this is just heartburn or food having a hard time going down.

It's terrible that there are no good indicators of pharynx cancer. I'm glad that it is rare, because it is so hard to detect.

wavy58
Post 2

@JackWhack – I am the only one of my friends who still has tonsils. In the early eighties, doctors were just chomping at the bit to remove them!

I did get a lot of minor cases of pharyngitis as a kid, but they are nothing compared to the bacterial pharyngitis that I have gotten a couple of times in the past few years. I'm referring to strep throat, the most painful sore throat that a person can have.

My throat swelled up so much that I could barely swallow my own saliva. I got a high fever, and I just felt out of my head. I was so ready to go to the doctor the next morning so that I could get some relief!

I took antibiotics and steroids for days. The steroids were the most powerful, and they made the swelling go down within 24 hours.

Bacterial pharyngitis like strep throat is nothing to fool around with. If you don't get it treated, you can wind up with kidney problems.

JackWhack
Post 1

Wow, this is a really thorough pharynx definition. I didn't know that it had so many sections!

My only experience with the word “pharynx” was when I got diagnosed with pharyngitis a lot as a kid. The doctor wanted to take my tonsils because of the recurring infections, but my mother wouldn't let him.

I'm actually glad now that she didn't. There is more research that says that tonsils can actually help your body prevent infections. If I had gotten them removed, I might have been exposing my body to harmful things.

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