Difference Between Pharynx and Larynx



Introduction

Human body is a coordinated system of complex organs that work in tandem to keep this machinery going. Two such organs are the pharynx and the larynx. The pharynx is the backbone of the respiratory and digestive system while the larynx makes respiration possible. Additionally, it houses the vocal cords of the human body. However, they differ significantly in their structures, anatomy, and mechanisms.

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Pharynx

The pharynx, more commonly known as the throat, serves the dual function of the digestive as well as the respiratory system of the human body. Its main purpose in the body is to transport air through the nose, food, and fluids from the mouth to their respective organs.

It is located at the bottom of the skull, i.e. middle of the neck, and spans a length of 4.5 inches long. Since it is exposed to external elements, it serves as a frequent illness site, for instance, sore throat and tonsillitis.

The major functions of the pharynx include

  • Delivering air to the respiratory system.

  • Delivering food and fluid to the digestive system.

  • Preventing food from entering the nasopharynx through a coordinated mechanism.

  • Maintaining balanced pressure in the ears along with draining fluids from them.

The anatomy of the pharynx includes 3 major parts −

  • Nasopharynx − It is the top part of the throat that connects to the nasal cavities allowing a passage to air.

  • Oropharynx − It is the middle part of the throat that connects to the oral cavity allowing a passage to air, food, and fluid.

  • Laryngopharynx − Also called the hypopharynx, it is the bottom part of the throat found near the larynx. It maintains the balanced passage of air to the lungs and of food and fluids to the esophagus.

Additionally, the pharynx also consists of three sets of tonsils and auditory tubes. Tonsils are located at the back of the throat and below the tongue. They serve as the first line of defence against any infection. Auditory or eustachian tubes occur in a pair and connect the throat to the ears. They help in maintaining balanced pressure between the ears and draining any excess fluid there.

Larynx

Larynx, also known as the voice box, is a hollow tube-like structure that acts as a connecting joint to your pharynx and the remaining respiratory system. It aids in providing air passage to the trachea and the lungs, safe swallowing, and utilizing your voice. It is found in the middle of the neck between the fourth and the sixth cervical (neck bones).

It is made up of cartilage that provides structure to it. These cartilages are connected by ligaments and membranes. During swallowing, breathing, or talking, muscle structure helps in the movement of the larynx. It is about 2 inches long in males while a little shorter in females. A longer larynx means a deeper voice.

The larynx helps with the following in the human body −

  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Preventing choking due to food entering the trachea

Anatomically, the larynx consists of

  • Epiglottis − It is a covering to the opening of the larynx which prevents food and other materials from entering the respiratory system.

  • False Vocal Cords − Also known as vestibular folds, help in closing the larynx when we swallow the food to prevent choking of the trachea.

  • Thyroid Cartilage − Also known as Adam’s apple, it supports and protects the vocal cords.

  • Vocal cords − They open and close rhythmically as air passes through them to create sounds and speech

Similarities between pharynx and larynx

  • They are both parts of the throat.
  • They both participate in the process of swallowing.
  • They both provide a passage to the air.

Differences between the pharynx and larynx

The major differences between the pharynx and larynx are summarised below −

Pharynx Larynx
It is a cavity behind the nose and mouth, connecting them to the larynx and esophagus respectively. It is a hollow organ that facilitates the passage of air from the nose to the lungs.
It is located behind the mouth It is found at the C4-6 vertebral levels
Its walls are made up of muscles Its walls are made up of cartilage
It functions as both the respiratory and digestive system It functions as a part of the respiratory system only
It consists of three regions namely nasopharynx, oropharynx, and laryngopharynx It consists of four cartilages namely thyroid, cricoid, arytenoid, and corniculate cartilage.
It does not have any vocal cords It consists of vocal cords

Conclusion

The pharynx and larynx both are the major components of the throat. However, they differ in their structure and functionalities. While the larynx aids in the respiratory mechanism of the body, the pharynx helps in both the respiratory and digestive mechanisms. The health of both the pharynx and larynx affects the physical state of the whole body.

FAQs

Q1. What are the health conditions related to the pharynx?

Ans. Certain health conditions that are related to the pharynx are

  • Dysphagia refers to trouble swallowing due to nerve damage or muscle weakness.

  • Bacterial or viral Infections e.g., common cold, strep throat, flu, and mononucleosis can cause pain and inflammation in the pharynx.

  • Inflamed auditory tubes can cause pain in the ears along with troubled hearing.

  • Pharyngitis or sore throat is inflammation of the pharynx and can persist for a few days.

  • Tonsillitis refers to the infection of the tonsils.

  • Sleep apnea may be caused due to abnormally working pharynx.

  • Throat Cancer such as nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal, and hypopharyngeal cancer.

Q2. When should I see a practising doctor for pharynx-related issues?

Ans. If you have had the following persistent symptoms you should seek medical help for pharynx-related issues −

  • Fever > 103 oF
  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • Lump in the throat or neck
  • Trouble in swallowing
  • Stiffness or Weakness in the neck

Q3. How can I protect my voice box?

Ans. To keep your voice box safe and healthy, practice the following −

  • Do not scream as it puts stress on the voice box.

  • Do not smoke either actively or passively.

  • Avoid medications that lead to the dry voice box. For instance, alcohol-containing medications.

  • Do not consume spicy foods which cause reflux.

  • Take appropriate breaks to give rest to your voice especially if you are in certain professions like teaching.

  • Make sure to use humidifiers in the dry and winter seasons.

Q4. What are the common ailments related to the larynx?

Ans. The common ailments related to the larynx are coughing, wheezing noise during breathing or speaking, hoarseness in voice, the presence of a lump in the throat or the neck, and trouble swallowing.

Q5. Name the muscles, arteries, and nerves found in the pharynx.

Ans. They are given as follows −

Muscles − Pharyngeal constrictors (inferior, middle, and superior muscles) and longitudinal muscles (stylopharyngeus, salpingopharyngeus, palatopharyngeus)

Arteries − Facial, lingual, and maxillary arteries (from external carotid artery)

Nerves − Pharyngeal plexus (from vagus, glossopharyngeal, and maxillary nerves).


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