Epiglottis Function

The epiglottis is located above the larynx. The function of the epiglottis is to protect the respiratory system from foreign particles, such as food. During swallowing, the epiglottis is depressed over the larynx. When breathing, it is open to allow air to travel freely. This article seeks to explain the function of the epiglottis and problems that may be associated with it.

Epiglottis Function and Anatomy

The epiglottis is formed by elastic cartilage and is covered in a membrane. When resting, the epiglottis remains open and allows air to flow through the larynx. When swallowing, the epiglottis closes to prevent liquids and solids from entering the respiratory system. The epiglottis is used as a valve that closes either the esophagus or larynx. Without the epiglottis, our mouths would not be able to serve the function as both entrance to the digestive and respiratory systems.

The epiglottis is part of the cough and gag reflex system. This system helps to protect our bodies from choking on foreign bodies. Some people have more developed gag and cough reflexes, while other people may have an extremely limited reflex.

Some languages use the epiglottis to make sounds, called epiglottal or pharyngeal consonants. The Danish, Dargwa, Dahalo and Aghul languages make use of the epiglottis. Other languages may also use the epiglottis or neighboring areas to make vocal sounds.

The epiglottis is connected to the thyroid cartilage, the tongue, the pharynx and the hyoid bone. These connected respond to various nervous system inputs and cause the epiglottis to open or close. The epiglottis has both a lingual and laryngeal surfaces. The epiglottis has taste buds and goblet cells, which secrete mucus. When we swallow, the hyoid bone raises and causes the epiglottis to cover the larynx. Laryngeal nerves control the movement of the epiglottis and sensory input is communicated through the vagus nerve.

Epiglottis Medical Conditions

1. Epiglottitis

Haemophilius influenza B bacteria may cause inflammation of the epiglottis. This is a life threatening condition. Fever, drooling, difficulty breathing and other problems in the epiglottis are associated symptoms of this bacterial infection. Epiglottitis may also be caused by trauma and will appear as inflammation.

This will cause airflow to be restricted. Difficulty breathing and swallowing may be a sign of numerous problems. It is important to speak with a medical professional anytime that you or someone in your care is having trouble breathing. You may be able to see a swollen epiglottis with a light, or the inflammation may be out of sight. If you or someone else is having trouble breathing, then immediately seek medical attention.

2. Laryngeal Cyst

Laryngeal cysts may appear anywhere throughout the larynx, but commonly appear on the epiglottis. There are three types of laryngeal cysts, they are, mucous, hemorrhagic and congenital. Difficulty breathing, pain and difficulty speaking are the most common symptoms. Cysts are generally taken care of before they lead to serious medical problems, but they have the potential to cause airflow restriction and death.

If you believe that you or someone else has a laryngeal cyst, then speak with a medical professional. You may be able to treat the cyst with medical attention if you catch it early. Surgery may be required if the cyst grows too large. Voice therapy may be necessary after removing the cyst.

3. Cancer

Cancer has the potential to appear throughout the body, the larynx and epiglottis is no exception. If you notice that you are having difficulty breathing and find that you have an unusual lump, then speak with a medical professional immediately. Cancer has the potential to spread throughout the body, so it is important to care for potential cancer cases as soon as you able to do so.

Your medical professional may need to gather material for a biopsy. Surgery may be necessary. This may result in the need for voice therapy. You may be able to see a lump on your epiglottis with a flashlight and mirror.

Without the epiglottis, we would not be able to eat food without risking death. The epiglottis is an indispensable aspect of our body. It is important to check our mouths for growths and other problems at least once a week. If you find that you are having a hard time breathing or swallowing, then you will want to speak with a medical professional.

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