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What is Laryngology?

What is the larynx? What does it do?

The larynx lies in the neck at the upper end of our windpipe (trachea) from the lungs. It is part of our airway in the throat and lies behind and below the mouth and tongue. It separates and protects our airway from the swallowing part of our throat which leads into the gullet (oesophagus) down which our food and drink are swallowed into the stomach.

The so called adam's apple in our neck is the largest piece of cartilage of the larynx which contains the vocal folds (often called vocal cords) which produce sound for speech.

The most important function of the larynx is to protect our lungs. It closes off the airway and stops food and liquid going down our windpipe into our lungs every time we swallow. It also closes and opens rapidly as part of coughing and therefore helps us to cough to protect our lungs.

However, the function that it is best known for is the way in which it produces sound which we turn into voice. The larynx lying at the top of the windpipe (trachea) is an important part of our breathing (respiratory) system and produces sound as we breathe out. We turn this sound into voice by movements of our throat, tongue, mouth and lips.  

If I have a problem with my larynx, who might my GP refer me to in a hospital?

Because  the larynx is  important for  breathing and swallowing as well as voice, patients may also occasionally be referred to respiratory medicine /chest physicians, gastroenterologists, or neurologists, in addition to ENT specialists and laryngologists. If an operation of any type is required then an anaesthetist may also asked to assess the patient.

Many problems and diseases of the larynx do NOT require any form of surgery, and common symptoms, such as hoarseness, are often treated by a speech and language therapist. Many ENT departments in the UK have a voice clinic where the patient is seen and assessed at the same time by both the ENT specialist/laryngologist and speech therapist.