Pharynx: Anatomy & Definition

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  • 0:00 What Is The Pharynx?
  • 0:30 Anatomy Of The Pharynx
  • 2:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Arrington

Derrick has taught biology and chemistry at both the high school and college level. He has a master's degree in science education.

The pharynx is an anatomical structure that functions in both respiration and digestion in the human body. In this lesson, we will investigate the anatomy and physiology of the pharynx to gain an understanding of its importance and how it works.

What is the Pharynx?

The pharynx is the body cavity that connects the nasal and oral cavities with the larynx and esophagus. It is commonly referred to as the throat.

The pharynx is part of both the digestive and respiratory systems. For the digestive system, its muscular walls function in the process of swallowing, and it serves as a pathway for the movement of food from the mouth to the esophagus. As part of the respiratory system, it allows for the movement of air from the nose and mouth to the larynx in the process of breathing.

Anatomy of the Pharynx

The pharynx is approximately 12.5 centimeters long and is divided into three parts. These parts include the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and laryngopharynx.

The nasopharynx is the most superior, or uppermost, part of the pharynx that works with the nasal cavity during breathing. It provides a passageway for air moving from the nose. The pharyngeal tonsils, or adenoids, are located on the posterior wall of the nasopharynx.

The oropharynx is behind the soft palate of the mouth and is below the nasopharynx. It serves as a passageway for food moving from the mouth to the esophagus and for air moving to and from the nasal cavity. A flap of connective tissue called the epiglottis is located at the bottom of the oropharynx and serves as a guide to make sure food enters the esophagus and does not enter the trachea, where it would cause aspiration and other health complications.

The laryngopharynx lies inferior, or below, the oropharynx and serves as a passageway for food to the esophagus.

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