OUT OF THE NOSE AND INTO THE THROAT: THE NASOPHARYNX

. Posted in HEALTHY BODY

The mucus, now carrying the trapped dirt and other unwanted particles, leaves the nose and is moved into the nasopharynx, the passageway located above the soft part of the roof of the mouth, or the soft palate. The nasopharynx connects the ears and nose to the throat. The bottom of the nasal cavity itself is formed by the roof of the hard palate and a portion of the soft palate. The soft palate moves when we swallow, covering up the velopharyngeal opening (the opening between the soft palate and the back of the throat), which connects the nasopharynx to the pharynx, or throat (8). It is this closure that prevents food from regurgitating into your nose when you swallow. When this opening is compromised, as in people who have a cleft palate, it cannot close, and food is forced into the nose when these individuals swallow. Furthermore, they have difficulty with speech and sound as if they were speaking through their nose.

On each side of the nasopharynx lies a eustachian tube. The eu - stachian tubes connect your ears (the middle ears, to be exact) to the nasopharynx. These tubes open every time you swallow and allow for the equalization of air pressure between the middle ear and the constantly changing pressure in the outside world.

In the case of young children, mucus drains from the sinuses into the nasopharynx, passing over the eustachian tubes. These tubes are small, and when they begin to develop they’re fairly horizontal, making them susceptible to infection caused by backed up mucus from the sinuses into the ears. As we get older, the tubes widen and the eustachian tubes angle downward, easing the drainage from the middle ear into the nasopharynx (9).

The adenoid bed, another common spot for infection, is also located in the back of the nasopharynx. Like the tonsils, the adenoid bed is

made up of lymphoid tissue that guards the throat from infection. Together, the adenoid bed, tonsils, and other small lymphoid glands in the throat form a ring of protective tissue called Waldeyer’s ring, which defends against infection and cancer. We each have many sets of tonsils, or tonsillar tissue. There are tonsils in the base of the tongue called the lingual (tongue) tonsils and tonsils in the sides of the back of the throat, called the palatine tonsils. The palatine tonsils are the ones that are taken out in children who suffer from tonsillitis. The adenoid bed typically disappears by the age of 5 or 6. However, in children with considerable infection, the adenoid bed swells and may obstruct the eustachian tubes and possibly the nose and the sinuses as well. Rarely are the adenoids present or swollen in adults, although I have seen cases in which they were present in patients with severe chronic infection.

The mucus then passes into the back of the throat, which is home to yet another set of mucus-producing glands. These glands, along with

the salivary and mucus glands of the mouth, create the slippery surface that assists us when we swallow food.

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