Human Anatomy

What Is the Pharynx Function

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: October 16, 2020
What Is the Pharynx Function

We have all heard that in our neck there is an area called pharynx, but what is the pharynx function? When it is cold or when you are sick, you can experience pain in the lower throat area. It is possible that the doctor says it is a pharyngitis that is affecting this part of the body, but the doctor probably did not explain what is the pharynx function. In this OneHowTo article we will give you an amateur lesson on human anatomy so that you can know what is the function of the pharynx and understand the process that is activated in our body when we breathe and when we eat.

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  1. What is the pharynx?
  2. Main pharynx functions
  3. Other functions of the pharynx

What is the pharynx?

The tube or pharynx is in charge of our respiratory functions as well as communication and digestive functions. It is the tube that comes just after the mouth, linking the air we inhale from the mouth to the air we inhale from the nose. It is also connected to the ear through the Eustachian tubes. This conduit measures about 10 centimeters in length and contains walls formed by wet muscles filled with mucosa.

When we eat and swallow, the breathing tube (also known as the trachea) gets closed by a valve called epiglottis that keeps food out of the airways. When we are eating and feel we are choking because the food is wallowing around deep inside you, in fact, the valve has malfunctioned and a piece of food has slipped through the airway.

The pharynx is where the soft palate is, and at its end we can find the tonsils, glands that are responsible for defending our body from infectious agents that can enter our mouth. Without tonsils, we would be at greater risk of getting bacteria or viruses in through food, and they would also affect us more severely.

Therefore, the pharynx function has to do with the digestive system as well as the respiratory system.

What Is the Pharynx Function - What is the pharynx?

Main pharynx functions

As we have already mentioned, the pharynx is a tube that connects the respiratory system with the digestive system. If we want to know what is the pharynx function, we should first of all understand that it basically carries out two functions: one has to do with breathing and the other one is related to the digestion of food. Here we explain it in detail:

  • Pharynx function in the digestive system

When we eat, we introduce food in our body through the oral cavity, where we chew and then push the food "back" with our tongue. That "back" is the pharynx, the canal where wet and ground food can continue its process in the body and towards the stomach. The pharynx is where the muscle contractions take place. They allow food to continue its course and reach the oesophagus.

Contractions also prevent food from entering the trachea and therefore sneaking into the respiratory canal. The epiglottis is the valve which the pharynx is in charge of closing through contractions, preventing us from choking with a piece of food.

  • Pharynx function in the respiratory system

Both the nasal passages and the mouth can inhale air. Both channels reach the pharynx which is responsible for pushing the air down to the trachea, which leads to the lungs. Earlier we mentioned that the pharynx´s walls are covered with a mucosa; that allows it to adapt to whatever it receives (food, air or something else). Depending on what the pharynx receives, it activates a function or another.

Thus, any condition that affects the pharynx (infections, diseases, etc.) can produce both respiratory problems and problems in the introduction of food. One of the most common diseases is pharyngitis.

What Is the Pharynx Function - Main pharynx functions

Other functions of the pharynx

In addition to these marvellous basic functions, the pharynx is also involved in other bodily processes such as vocalisation and pressure in the middle ear. First things first:

  • The pharynx and vocalisation

People can make sounds through the vocal cords; this process is known as vocalisation. To make this possible, it is necessary that the air we breathe in pass through the pharynx and larynx so that the vocal chords in the larynx vibrate and can therefore produce the sounds we emit when we speak. So, without the conduit of the pharynx that is responsible for transporting the air to the larynx, we could not speak.

  • Pharynx and the pressure in the middle ear

We mentioned earlier that the Eustachian tube is the tube that connects the throat to the ear so that a nasopharyngeal opening is possible. It opens and closes: such process makes it possible to equalise the pressure that reaches the middle ear and thus transmit the sound coming from the outside correctly. It is for this reason that when our pharynx is not well, we can experience earache, hearing difficulties (the effect of clogged ears), or feel dizzy.

What Is the Pharynx Function - Other functions of the pharynx

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What Is the Pharynx Function