Our body is composed of many different organs and each of these organs carries a specific set of functions. The pharynx is a structure that is considered part of both the respiratory and the digestive tracts. But what is the function of the pharynx?
The pharynx is a fibromuscular cavity that is situated within the throat and is located posterior or at the back of the nasal and the oral cavities. This structure is also found posterior to the larynx. Although the pharynx varies in size depending on the body structure of every individual, this cavity is approximately 5 inches long. It is also divided into three significant regions namely the nasopharynx, the oropharynx and the laryngopharynx or the hypopharynx. This structure is also connected or linked to the base of the skull with the help of several thick connective tissues and muscle fibers. The walls of the pharynx is also made up of both longitudinal and circular muscles. This also houses the tonsils and the adenoids. The pharynx is considered to be an important part of the body. It plays different roles that aids in the overall function of both the digestive and the respiratory systems.
Functions of the Pharynx
The pharynx is a common passageway of both food and air. This is the reason why it serves a dual purpose for two different systems. The lower or the inferior portion of the pharynx allows oly air to pass through while letting food and fluids pass by. On the other hand, the superior or the upper part of the pharynx is the one that allows the food to pass through. In addition to this, the pharynx also opens to two different passages. One is connected to the esophagus, wherein food and fluids are directed and the other is linked to the trachea where the air is passed through to the lungs.
Function of the Pharynx in the Digestive System
The role of the pharynx in the digestive system is that it is the one that receives the food after being swallowed. Once the moistened and mechanically digested food or bolus is moved at the back of the tongue, the pharynx will be the one to receive it. With the help of the circular muscles that lines the walls of the pharynx, the bolus is then pushed through to the esophagus. This process is made possible by the swallowing reflex, which prevents the food from entering the windpipe or the trachea. This is aided by the epiglottis, which is a flap-like structure that covers the larynx that avoids the entrance of food towards the trachea. Because of this, aspiration and asphyxiation are prevented.
Function of the Pharynx in the Respiratory System
Aside from its work for the digestive system, the pharynx also plays a supporting role for the respiratory system. Just like the passage of food, the pharynx also acts as the passage of air. Once air is inhaled from the nose or the mouth, the pharynx will then direct it towards the larynx down to the trachea. The mucus lining that forms the walls of the oropharynx is designed to adapt both food and air. This is the reason why any injury or damage in the pharynx can already impede breathing as well as swallowing which can cause serious complications or health problems.
Other Roles of the Pharynx in the Body
Aside from the mentioned responsibilities of the pharynx, this structure is also used in vocalization. Vocalization is defined as the process in which vocal sounds are produced. As the air is passed through to the pharynx and the larynx, the vocal cords in the latter begin to vibrate. This helps in the production of sound, which is used by humans in speaking.
In addition to this, the pharynx also helps in the equalization of the air pressure seen in the middle ear. The Eustachian tube or the auditory tubes are the ones that link the middle ear to the pharynx near the nasopharynx area. This opening alternately opens and closes in order to maintain equal air pressure in the middle ear. This likewise improves sound conduction in order to take place properly. The pharynx is also important in boosting immunity since the tonsils and the adenoids, which are considered body defenses, are located in this portion. These structures come handy by trapping different microbes and foreign particles in order to prevent it from entering the lungs.
These are just some of the common yet essential functions of the pharynx to our body. As we can see, the pharynx also deserves equal care and attention as much as the other major organs in our body do. Without proper care, problems could be experienced which can definitely and significantly alter the entire functioning of the body.