(Note: Move your mouse over the above image to highlight the various anatomical parts of the human throat.)
The mouth (oral cavity) starts in front at the lips and extends behind the soft palate to the back of the throat (pharynx). It contains the tongue and teeth, whilst the main salivary gland ducts open in the floor of mouth under the tongue and upper cheek regions. In addition, there are numerous other secreting glands producing saliva which keeps the lining tissues (mucosa) moist, lubricates ingested food and aids digestion.
The tonsils sit in tissue clefts on each side at the back of the throat. They are made of lymphoid tissue and play an important role in immunity in the first few years of life. Similar lymphoid tissue is found in the midline at the very top of the pharynx (adenoids) and across the tongue base forming a protective ring surrounding the entrance to the airway and gullet (Waldeyer’s ring). These structures are well positioned for exposure to inhaled and ingested substances and have deep crevices which increase their active surface area for producing antibodies to bacteria, viruses and other agents. They usually shrink after puberty.
The voice box (larynx) has three main functions – voice production, an airway to the lungs and protection of the airway when swallowing. The vocal cords are two muscle bands covered with a thin surface membrane which oscillates like the fronds of a sea anemone. Two opposing sets of muscles open and close the vocal cords in a controlled way breaking up the airflow exhaled from the lungs and giving vibratory energy which produces a basic sound. A change in the tension and length of the vocal cords causes a change in the vibration pattern and hence pitch the the sounds produced. The shorter length of the vocal cords in females is the main reason the average pitch of their voice is higher than a males. The tongue, lips, teeth and soft palate then modify these sound bites to form words, whilst resonance in the sinuses gives added volume. The airway is protected by a covering movement of the epiglottis, by inward movement of soft tissue above the vocal cords (false vocal folds) and by the vocal cords moving together (adduction). Any foreign material which gets through this multi-layer protection and passes through the vocal cords will enter the airway and induce a cough reflex. This is what occurs when something swallowed goes down “the wrong way”, and serves to expel the foreign material from the airway.
Dr Gerald Brookes is regularly consulted by the media for his expertise. He has been interviewed by the Daily Mail, featured on Channel 4's Embarassing Bodies, looked after The X-Factor contestants and recently, appeared on BBC Radio 2 with Chris Evans.
Adele was experiencing dizziness and balance problems so severe that she could barely function. In desperation, after consulting her GP to no avail, she got in touch with Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies team. The show then contacted Dr Gerald Brookes, who was able to diagnose her rare condition as Basilar Migraine.
Related link: Embarrassing Bodies
Catherine Eade was having dizzy spells and balance problems. When inexplicably she started suffering memory loss too, she consulted Dr Gerald Brookes at The Harley Street ENT Clinic who correctly diagnosed her problem as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).
Read her full story in the Daily Mail: Memory like a sieve? Why a simple ear infection may be to blame.
The Harley Street ENT Clinic looked after The X-Factor TV show contestants for many seasons. At the end of the 2010 season, Dr Gerald Brookes was interviewed by Nicky Broyd of Boots WebMD on the perils of high pressure performing.