It holds your head up, routes nourishment to the rest of your body, and allows you to speak and sing. Your throat, or pharynx, is a long tube located behind your nasal cavity and mouth that carries food and liquids to your esophagus and air to your windpipe and larynx. Important parts include:
Larynx — Your vocal cords are found in this tube made of muscles and cartilage. It’s the area in front of your neck that moves up and down when you swallow – the Adam’s apple in men. The larynx carries air from your nose and throat toward the trachea.
Epiglottis — A muscular fold that covers the entrance of the larynx during swallowing to prevent food from entering the lungs.
Trachea – Known as your windpipe, this muscular tube carries air from the larynx to your bronchi, the main passageway into your lungs.
Esophagus – The muscular tube that carries food from your throat toward your stomach.
ENTs, or otolaryngologists, are specialists trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the throat, larynx (voice box), and esophagus, including voice and swallowing disorders. Let’s look at three of the most common throat disorders that bring people to an ENT’s office.
1) Strep Throat
Strep throat is a highly contagious Streptococcal bacterial infection in the throat that causes a severe sore throat and makes it very painful to swallow. Although it is most common in children, you can contract strep throat at any age. Other signs include:
• Swollen tonsils and lymph nodes in the neck
• White or yellow spots on a reddened back of the throat
• Fever over 101°F
Your ENT will perform a physical exam and a throat culture to diagnose a strep throat, and typically prescribe antibiotics to treat it. Strep usually resolves within a week, but it’s important to seek treatment as soon as you suspect the infection to avoid spreading it to others and prevent complications from developing, such as kidney inflammation or rheumatic fever.
Tonsillitis is an infection in the tonsils, two round lumps in the back of the throat that are an important part of your body’s immune system. The adenoids are enlarged lymphatic tissue at the top of the tonsils. Along with the tonsils, the adenoids help fight bacterial and viral infections in babies and young children.
Children commonly experience infected or enlarged tonsils or adenoids often caused by a strep bacterial infection. This makes breathing, swallowing,and sleeping difficult, and the child often experiences severe pain and swelling in the neck. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, other tonsillitis symptoms are:
• Redder than normal tonsils
• A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
• Voice change due to swelling, coughing
• Ear pain
• Fever, chills
• Bad breath
Your ENT physician will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat the inflammation caused by the bacteria, but chronic cases of repeated tonsillitis may require surgical removal in procedures called tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy. These surgeries represent over 15 percent of all procedures in American children under 15 years of age.
3) Snoring and Sleep Apnea
Snoring and sleep apnea — Do you snore? You might be one of over 18 million American adults with obstructive sleep apnea. Snoring occurs when your tongue and throat muscles relax during sleep. This narrows or blocks the airway. When you breathe through your mouth, the uvula and palate vibrate against the back of your throat to create the snoring sound.
Although there are many harmless causes for snoring, it’s a far more serious problem for those with obstructive sleep apnea. These people stop breathing many times a night when the tongue and muscles in the back of the throat completely obstruct the airway. Many people don’t even realize this is happening, but if left untreated, the complications include:
• Daytime fatigue that decreases alertness and productivity and causes drowsiness while driving
• High blood pressure
• Heart attacks, stroke, heart failure
• Anxiety and depression
Your ENT may recommend nasal decongestants, inhaled steroid preparations or a device that forces your jaw forward and prevents your tongue from falling back. If your case is severe, your doctor may prescribe a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) device to prevent your airway from collapsing during sleep. Sometimes surgeries are used to treat sleep apnea or snoring, including tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, septoplasty or surgery on the palate and uvula.
Are you concerned that you might have sleep apnea or another throat disorder? Revere Health Ear, Nose and Throat providers have received extensive training in a wide range of primary care and specialty-specific head and neck conditions. We provide compassionate, individualized care for children and adults in eight Utah locations.