What’s a larynx anyway? Most people know the larynx as the voice box, since it houses the muscles that make up your vocal cords; however, this organ does so much more than just help you make sounds. Everything from swallowing, breathing, and not choking can be attributed to the function and structure of the larynx.
Soft Flaps Prevent Choking (Usually)
Like most body parts, the larynx is made up of a mix of cartilage and muscle. The two pieces of cartilage you’ve heard of are the thyroid cartilage (the Adam’s apple) and the epiglottis. The job of the Adam’s apple is structural; it’s attached to the hyoid bone and the two hold up the front of the larynx. The epiglottis, on the other hand, has a much more interesting function. It opens up to let air in and out of the windpipe, but when you swallow food or water the epiglottis closes. This way, whatever you’re swallowing goes down the esophagus. Breathing while swallowing can lead to choking… or snorting the liquid or solids up your nose!
Because the larynx controls the entry and exit of air into the lungs, the muscles are able to contract and relax and use this air to do cool things. The respiratory muscles help you breathe, which isn’t really “cool”, but phonation muscles rub together and that’s how you’re able to make noise. If you think about it, these muscles are made of the same molecules as a piece of steak. So when you speak or sing, it’s as though you’re speaking, singing meat. Hmmmm…
All these muscles are no use without coordination from nerves. Enter the Vagus nerve. You’ve probably heard of this nerve before, but it’s unbelievably complex and important. The coordination it takes to swallow is all controlled by branches of the Vagus nerve. Any damage or issues and you could find yourself choking more or even needing a feeding tube. Along with swallowing, coughing is also part of the larynx’s job (along with the diaphragm). So, difficulty with things going down and difficulty getting rid of things that shouldn’t be going down leads to a world of trouble.
Functions like breathing, swallowing, and talking are not things we think about, until we lose the ability to do them. Luckily, for many people, advancements in science and medicine has allowed even those with faulty larynxes to live. This holiday season, give the gift of the larynx to someone who truly appreciates this organ. It makes a great present for ear, nose, throat doctors, competitive eaters, singers, and starry-eye, pre-med students.
written by Science with Evie