The epiglottis is a body part that is a flap that acts like a trap door in its functions.It is made up of skin and cartilage that is elastic in nature and is located at the start of the voice box (Larynx) and the bottom part of the tongue. It also contains a membrane of mucus that protects it.
The epiglottis contains taste buds and is one of the 9 different parts that help comprise the voice box. You can visually see the upper-epiglottis at the top of the throat while the mouth is open. However with all of its majesty what really is the epiglottis function? Can you have issues with the epiglottis function and what with and how can you treat conditions involving the epiglottis?
The main epiglottis function is to prevent foot and liquid from traveling into your wind pipe (trachea) so instead it routes it to go through the esophagus. This also prevents choking from happening and entering to the lungs. It also assists the voicebox in making some sounds
How Does the Epiglottis Function and Work
There are two groups of muscles that assist with the movement of the larynx- extrinsic and intrinsic. Theres of Intrinsic muscle group are responsible for controlling speech and the vocal cords. The Extrinsic muscle groups work with controlling the flapping of the epiglottis and for controlling all the structures in the larynx.
The epiglottis is positioned upright like it is hanging in a vertical fashion when you are breathing normally. It enables air to travel through the larynx down to the trachea and then lastly, the lungs.
Now when you eat food and swallow it, the food will travel down the throat (pharynx) and initiates the extrinsic muscles to pull the larynx up, As this occurs, the epiglottis makes contact with the back of the tongue to block it and to direct food into the esophagus. Once the food touches the epiglottis, the muscles then relax and return to the normal position.
Epiglottitis: Problems, Causes, and Issues
Epiglottitis is a condition that happens when you epiglottis becomes swollen and inflamed. It is primarily caused by a bacteria known as HIB or (Haemophilus influenza type b), although there are other types of issues and problems that can also result in this very serious condition (ie, direct injury, smoking crack, marijuana use, alcohol abuse.)
There are only a few symptoms of epiglottitis, but it comes on like lightening! Symptoms include: sore throat, difficulty breathing, drooling, problems swallowing, a high fever, loud breathing, and hoarse voice.
Because of its severity and capabilities of blocking your air passageway to the lungs- it is important that you seek immediate medical attention if any symptoms arise. You should not spare any time before you dial 911 or head to the nearest hospital. You can try to lean forward as it helps to alleviate some symptoms, and do NOT lay down on your back as it will worsen this condition as it compromises breathing abilities further.
Treatment for Epiglottitis is immediate and urgent as the airway will need to be secured with a breathing tube or oxygen. In the most severe cases, this condition may even merit a tracheotomy. This is a surgical procedure where a small cut is placed where the trachea is located and a tube is inserted to provide oxygen directly to the lungs. After any procedure and the airway is no longer compromised, the physician will then decide what treatment next is required.
Most likely you will still receive oxygen until you are 100% better. Additionally you will be put on an IV until you can eat normally and swallowing is safe. Additionally, to treat this condition you will need be rendered a course of strong antibiotics for many days. On average it can take anywhere from 7-9 days to recover from this condition.
In addition, because of the (Hib) bacteria can be fatal when effecting the epiglottis, there has been many vaccinations developed that help to prevent the condition from effecting children, adults, and seniors.