The throat has the dual responsibility of transporting both the food we eat and the air we breathe, making it part of the digestive system as well as the respiratory system. For that reason, special structures are needed to make sure food doesn’t enter the lungs and too much air doesn’t enter the digestive tract. In this article, we’ll discuss the detailed anatomy of the human throat and discover how this fascinating organ lives its double life.
Parts of the human throat
Starting from the part of the throat that is closest to the mouth, the throat is made up of the: uvula, tonsils, pharynx, epiglottis, larynx, and the upper portions of the esophagus and trachea.
The pharynx is the part of your throat that a doctor could see when you open your mouth very wide. It is a tube with lots of muscle tissue which aids in swallowing and propelling food into the esophagus or air into the larynx. The epiglottis is an extremely important part of the throat – it’s the muscular fold that prevents food and liquid from getting into your lungs by closing off the entrance to the larynx when swallowing.
Branching off from the pharynx en route to the lungs is the larynx or voice box, which contains vocal chords and makes up part of the “Adam’s apple” that you can feel (and sometimes see) moving up and down when swallowing). The larynx eventually gives way to the trachea, which is also known as the windpipe. Only the upper portion of the trachea is considered part of the throat. It eventually connects to the bronchi and the lungs to form the respiratory system.
The other branch of the pharynx, separated from the larynx by the epiglottis, is the esophagus. This is the pipe that carries food and liquid that you swallow into your stomach for digestion.
Other important structures in the throat region
There are several bones and other structures in the neck and throat area that are not part of the throat per se, but do have important functions and warrant a mention in our discussion of the anatomy of the human throat.
The brain stem and cervical (neck) vertebrae run behind the throat, and the upper portion of the pharynx is secured to the base of the skull. The hyoid bone is a very important bone in the throat area. This U-shaped bone, which is not directly articulated (jointed) to any other bones, lies behind the base of the jaw and supports the tongue, pharynx, epiglottis and larynx. This bone assists with tongue movement, swallowing, breathing and speech.
Finally, the thyroid gland is a very important part of the endocrine system that is located in the throat region. The thyroid has a butterfly shape and is situated on the anterior face of the larynx and trachea, enveloping the tube right where these two structures meet. This gland forms part of the Adam’s apple you can feel moving up and down when you swallow, and is responsible for producing important hormones that govern growth and metabolism.