18. Larynx is a musical instrument.


When you look inside the larynx, you can see that the right vocal cord is attached in the front and the left vocal cord is attached in the back of larynx. The space between the vocal cords is narrow. Engulfed food should go down the esophagus, but sometimes it ends up going down to the larynx. This causes obstruction of the airway. The food is usually caught by the vocal cords, and the food is usually coughed out. If it is not coughed out and goes down the airway, it damages the lungs. Thus, vocal cords and coughing are important in protecting the lungs.

However, having too narrow a space between vocal cords can be harmful. For instance, a candy might get wedged between the vocal cords to cause airway obstruction. Blockage of larynx is the first thing doctors look for when they see a patient with breathing difficulties. If the blockage can't be resolved, alternative airway is made by cutting off the part of the trachea below larynx. This is done frequently in emergency situations.

The vocal cords are close together but they are not attached together. This is why you don't make any sound when you breathe. When the muscles of the larynx shrink, allowing the vocal cords to stick together, the exhaling breath of air makes the vocal cords shiver and enables you to speak. "Are sounds produced in the mouth?" This is wrong. "No, the larynx is where sounds are made, and the mouth is where we shape sounds to say what we want to say."




You can prove yourself that vocal cords are attached in the front and back of your larynx. Press your larynx as you say "Ah~." Pushing weakens the tension between the cords, and you will hear the lowered pitch of your voice. The same principle applies to a loosened guitar string which produces low pitch sounds. Larynx is made out of cartilage, not out of bone, and pressing it too often can cause damage. It would be foolish to repeatedly press your larynx to prove the anatomical structure of your vocal cords.

Everyone knows that male's larynx protrude more than that of female's. People call it the Adam's apple. More protrusion means longer vocal cords, and moving longer vocal cords becomes difficult. This may be why males talk less than females. In this point of view, apple of silence seems to be more appropriate. Also, males have lower pitch than females because of their longer vocal cords.

If you dissect a larynx, you can see muscles that produce sounds, muscles that don't produce sounds, muscles that raise the pitch, and muscles that lower the pitch. Larynx is like an instrument. As there are good and bad instruments, there are good and bad larynx.

In otorhinolaryngology, ears, nose, pharynx, and larynx are taken care of. The downward pathway behind the uvula is the pharynx. The air in pharynx moves down to larynx, and the food in pharynx moves down to esophagus. Pharynx and larynx are the area of expertise for otorhinolaryngologists.