The pharynx -- the throat -- may be one of the most underappreciated organs in the body. This muscular tube is not only an integral part of both the digestive and respiratory systems, but it is also in contact with four body cavities. The pharynx produces antibodies when exposed to antigens, serves as the resonating chamber in speech production, and assists with hearing. Additionally, it contributes to balance and sense of taste.
The pharynx is a hollow, primarily muscular tube with moist, mucus-rich walls. It rests behind the mouth and the nasal cavity, between the larynx and the esophagus. It measures about 5 inches long, starting at the base of the skull and extending to the upper esophageal sphincter. Circular muscles called constrictors make up its outer layer. These muscles aid in the swallowing process by cutting off air passageways to prevent aspiration of food. Longitudinal muscles lie beneath the pharynx's outer layer of muscles, consisting of three flexible outer bands which aid in shortening and widening the pharynx during the swallowing process.
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