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Merck Manual

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Quick Facts



The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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What is the throat?

Your throat is the part of your body from the back of your mouth down to the passageways that go to your lungs and stomach. The medical name for the throat is the pharynx.

The throat is an important passageway:

  • Air passes through your throat on its way in and out of your lungs

  • Food passes through your throat on its way to your stomach

A Look Inside the Nose and Throat

A Look Inside the Nose and Throat

What are the main parts of the throat?

The important parts of your throat include:

  • Tonsils

  • Uvula

  • Voice box

  • Epiglottis

The tonsils are two lumps of tissue at the back of your mouth, one on either side of your throat. Tonsils help fight off infection. Tonsils are largest in children and get smaller as children grow up.

The uvula is a piece of tissue that you see hanging down in the back of your throat between the tonsils.

The voice box is also known as your larynx. It contains your vocal cords and makes the sound and words of your voice.

Your epiglottis is a flap of cartilage in front of your voice box. When you swallow, it covers the opening to the larynx so food and water doesn't go into your lungs.

How does the throat work?

Your throat has many small muscles that work together with your tongue to let you swallow food and water and not let it get into your lungs. These and other small muscles also help control your voice.

What can go wrong with the throat?

Throat problems include:

  • Infections, such as tonsillitis and epiglottitis

  • Foreign bodies, such as a fish bone, getting stuck in the throat

  • Cancers, particularly in people who use a lot of tobacco

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