What is the role of epiglottis in breathing and swallowing?
When we breathe, the epiglottis moves to allow air into the lungs. When we eat, the epiglottis covers the top of the windpipe, so that food goes into the swallowing tube (esophagus), and not into the lungs.
Let’s get acquainted together with the most important information related to the usefulness and important function of the epiglottis, in addition to diseases that affect its vital function:
The benefit of the epiglottis
The epiglottis is a thin, flexible, leaf-like structure located behind the tongue at the upper edge of the larynx, or voice box.
The benefit of the epiglottis lies in all of the following:
- Its defensive function is to protect the human body from the danger of suffocation, as the epiglottis acts as a switching point between the larynx and the esophagus , by allowing air to enter the airways during breathing.
- Allowing food to pass freely into the esophagus during the process of swallowing food, and this is done by closing the trachea , preventing food from entering it.
The epiglottis plays an important role in protecting the respiratory system , as it acts as a cover that tightly closes the trachea during eating or drinking, and its function will be explained in detail in the following:
1. During Relax Mode
In the relaxed position, the epiglottis is erect up in the pharynx and stable at the base of the tongue.
An erection of the tongue is due to the presence of very small ligaments called the thyroepiglottic ligament and the hyoepiglottic ligament. These ligaments support the epiglottis and make it erect during rest.
In general, the epiglottis is in a relaxed position throughout the day except when eating, where the relaxation position allows air to enter freely from the nose and mouth into the trachea, and then into the lungs.
2. While eating
It is worth noting that the vital function of the epiglottis begins when food or drink is swallowed. During the swallowing process, the epiglottis is folded downward to cover the entire larynx and trachea , allowing food to enter the esophagus.
At the end of the swallowing process, the epiglottis returns to its normal position, represented by an erection.
Anatomical structure of the epiglottis
The epiglottis is a cartilaginous tissue surrounded by a mucous membrane, and it consists of elastic cartilages that contain a high percentage of elastin fibers, which give the epiglottis a rigid and flexible structural shape.
In general, the surface of the anterior epiglottis near the bottom of the tongue is covered by a layer of non-keratinized stratified squamous epithelium.
Its inner surface facing the larynx and trachea is composed of a layer of columnar epithelial cells, which correspond to the tissues lining the larynx.
In addition to the presence of a layer of connective tissue, which is located under the epithelial layers, which contains nerve fibers and blood vessels that supply the epiglottis.
The epiglottis is a part of the body that can be damaged just like any other part of the body.
The following is a list of some of the diseases related to the epiglottis:
Epiglottitis is a serious condition that can lead to death as a result of severe complications resulting from obstruction of the airways.
Epiglottitis occurs due to many causes, which include the following:
- Damage due to a direct injury to the neck area.
- Burning from drinking very hot liquids, or accidentally swallowing some caustic or caustic chemicals.
- Ingestion of solid foreign objects.
- Use of some types of narcotics, such as: cocaine.
- Bacterial infection, especially Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) infection
The patient with epiglottitis may experience the following symptoms:
- severe sore throat;
- Disturbing sounds during inhalation called stridor .
- difficulty swallowing;
2. Laryngomalacia (Laryngomalacia)
Laryngomalacia is a loosening of the tissues of the upper larynx, which is caused by a congenital defect affecting the larynx and epiglottis.
This relaxation leads to the contraction of the epiglottis and the larynx during the inhalation process, as the shape of the epiglottis changes from a flat shape to a concave shape, thus causing a partial obstruction in the airway.
Laryngomalacia, usually occurring in infants, is the most common cause of noisy noises during inhalation.
Symptoms of laryngomalacia in children include:
- Breathing difficulty.
- difficulty feeding
- frequent vomiting;
3. Head and neck cancer
Head and neck cancer represents a wide range of cancer types that may affect different parts of the head and neck, such as: laryngeal cancer , epiglottis, and throat cancer .
In general, the presence of cancer of the epiglottis or the spread of cancer to the surrounding parts negatively affects its vital function, causing a blockage of the trachea.