The epiglottis is a flap of thin cartilage positioned behind the tongue. It covers the glottic opening while a person swallows. The epiglottis has a vital role in normal functioning of the body.
What is Epiglottis and Where is it Located?
The epiglottis is a thin, leaf shaped cartilaginous tissue located in the throat, in front of the larynx, attached to the root of the tongue. The epiglottis is one of nine cartilages which together form the larynx or the voice box. Major role of the epiglottis is to prevent the foods we swallow to enter the wind pipe and the lungs. When we swallow, the epiglottis folds over the glottis so that food and liquid end up in the digestive tract and not in the airway. Without the epiglottis we would not be able to eat or drink without chocking and coughing. A small ligament connects the epiglottis to the back of thyroid cartilage. While we breathe the epiglottis is pointed upwards but when we swallow, the hyoid bone elevates and draws the larynx upwards while the epiglottis folds down.
Function of EpiglottisThe epiglottis is situated in the throat region. The wind pipe and the esophagus are the passages that open in the mouth. Without the lid or covering, which is the epiglottis, swallowed food and liquid would without the obstacle enter the wind pipe while the air would end up in the food passage. This would affect both the respiratory system and the digestive system functions. The ultimate result of this would be death due to chocking. Therefore, the function of the epiglottis is equally essential for processes of digestion and respiration.
The epiglottis is located at the entrance of the larynx. The space between the vocal folds is called glottis, which is covered by the epiglottis. Normally, the epiglottis remains in the upright position to allow free flow of air through the larynx, trachea and other parts of the respiratory system. On the other hand, larynx is pushed down by the tongue during the act of swallowing. Thereby, solid food cannot enter the respiratory tract. The epiglottis functions mechanically as a part of the swallowing reflex and it is not regulated by the brain activity nor nerve signals. However, when we talk while eating or eat very fast, the food may accidentally fall toward the trachea. But, due to pockets on the either side of the epiglottis this food can be coughed up.
Inflammation of the epiglottis leads to a condition known as epiglottitis. Epiglottitis is characterized by swelling of the epiglottis which can hinder breathing. It is a serious condition that requires prompt treatment.