Digestive system organs - Pharynx

Pharynx is the part of neck and throat, situated behind the nose and the mouth. It is a cone/funnel shaped tube of about 11-13 cm length.

The upper end is connected with ears and the lower end continues to esophagus, the food pipe. Tonsils are located in the pharynx.

It is a part of digestive system as well as respiratory system. It also functions with various parts the mouth to bring out the sounds produced in the larynx. It has the additional function of speech assistance.

Food as well as air passes through pharynx. There is a flap that closes over trachea when we swallow food, to prevent food getting into windpipe. That prevents choking.

The tongue moves the food bolus(the chewed up wet food lump) at the back of mouth. Pharynx sends the food bolus in the direction of esophagus where it is sent down towards the stomach.

No digestion happens in pharynx and esophagus. They only are used as passages to get food to the stomach for digestion.

What problems can one have with pharynx?

1 - Pharyngitis

Pharyngitis is inflammation of the throat (pharynx). The most common symptom is a sore throat. It's often caused by an infection. This condition can affect children as well as adults.

There are two types of Pharyngitis.

  1. Acute pharyngitis - gets over quickly. It may be present for about a week. Mostly children and young adults suffer from it.
  2. Chronic Pharyngitis – lasts longer. For many weeks or even months.

Symptoms of pharyngitis

  • Inflammation of the throat. The throat lining and tonsils appear red and swollen. There may be some white discharge or pus at the back of the throat.
  • Sore throat. There may be pain in the throat. You may feel Pain and difficulty while swallowing.
  • Earache, fever, feeling of tiredness and not feeling well, body ache, cough, tender tonsils are additional symptoms.

If the symptoms are milder and are improving, you can mange things at home. If the symptoms persists or are very severe, you have high fever, have difficulty in breathing, you should go to the doctor. Otherwise there is a possibility of things getting worse.

Causes of pharyngitis

  • Most of the time it is caused by a virus. If you have Common cold, strep throat, there is a possibility of pharyngitis.
  • Smoke, air pollution, some airborne allergens such as pollen can cause pharyngitis.

If the sore throat is present for a long time the doctor may take a throat swab to check if there is a bacterial infection. He may also refer your to a ENT specialist.

Treatment for pharyngitis

Gargling with warm water to which salt has been added can help in feeling relief in the throat. Sucking on throat lozenges can give some comfort to the sore throat.

Drinking hot or warm drinks helps too.

Drink lemon tea with honey.

2 - Pharyngeal Pouch

This condition is also referred to as Zenker's diverticulum. The term 'diverticulum' refers to a sac-like structure. This is caused by anatomical weakness in the muscles of pharynx. The muscles are not able to relax when one tries to swallow and a pouch or a sac develops.

The most common symptom of Pharyngeal Pouch is the difficulty in swallowing food or dysphagia. The person may feel a lump in the throat. In severe problems of Pharyngeal Pouch, endoscopic surgery may need to be performed.

3 - Pharyngeal Cancer

This is generally referred to as throat cancer. Throat pain, lump in the throat sensation, developing sores etc are some of the symptoms of pharyngeal cancer. It can also cause breathing problems.

Smoking and alcohol can cause this cancer. Not just smoking, chewing tobacco or taking tobacco in any way can be the cause of this cancer.

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