Larynx (Voice Box)
What is the larynx?
Your larynx is part of your respiratory system. It’s a hollow tube that lets air pass from your throat (pharynx) to your trachea on the way to your lungs. It also contains your vocal cords and is essential to human speech, so it’s often called the voice box.
Where is the larynx?
Your larynx is inside the middle of your neck, at the level of the Adam’s apple. It’s located between your fourth to sixth cervical vertebrae (neck bones).
What does the larynx do?
Your larynx has three main functions in your body:
- Creating vocal sounds.
- Preventing food and other particles from getting into your trachea, lungs and the rest of your respiratory system.
What is your larynx made of?
Your larynx is made of:
- The cartilage that gives it structure.
- Ligaments that connect the areas of cartilage and attach your larynx to nearby structures.
- Membranes, which also help hold cartilage together.
- Muscles, which move your larynx while swallowing, help with breathing and produce vocal sounds.
What are the parts of the larynx?
The anatomy of your larynx includes:
- Epiglottis: This flap of skin covers the opening of your larynx. It keeps food and other particles from getting into your respiratory system.
- False vocal cords: False vocal cords, or vestibular folds, close your larynx when you swallow so that food doesn’t go into your trachea and lungs.
- Thyroid cartilage: This piece of cartilage on the front of your larynx is often called the Adam’s apple.
- Vocal cords: Your vocal cords, or vocal folds, open, close and vibrate as air passes through to create sounds and speech.
How long is the larynx?
The larynx is about 2 inches long in adults. It’s smaller in women than in men. A larger larynx usually means a deeper voice.
Conditions and Disorders
What conditions and disorders can affect larynx function?
Your larynx can be affected by certain health conditions. The most common are:
- Acute laryngitis: Laryngitis is inflammation of the larynx. Short-term laryngitis may involve a sore throat, hoarse voice, pain, coughing and sometimes fever. It can be caused by an infection or overuse of the vocal cords. It usually lasts for one or two weeks.
- Chronic laryngitis: Long-term laryngitis lasts longer than three weeks. It can be caused by smoking, allergies or reflux.
- Laryngeal cancer: Laryngeal cancer may require surgery to remove part or all of the larynx (laryngectomy).
- Trauma or injury: The larynx can be injured like any other part of the body. A common injury is damage from overuse (for example, someone who speaks, sings or shouts a lot).
- Vocal cord dysfunction: Vocal cord dysfunction occurs when the vocal cords don’t act or work normally.
- Vocal cord lesions: The vocal cords can develop noncancerous lesions, nodules, polyps or cysts, especially with overuse of the voice.
- Vocal fold paralysis: Vocal fold paralysis is when one or both vocal folds do not move properly.
How can I keep my voice box healthy?
Many strategies can help you protect your larynx and voice, including:
- Avoid screaming or whispering, both of which can put stress on your voice. Consider a microphone if you need to amplify your voice.
- Avoid smoking and breathing in second-hand smoke.
- Drink lots of water.
- Limit medications and chemicals that can dry the vocal cords. Examples include some drugs for colds and allergies and mouthwashes that contain alcohol.
- Limit spicy foods, which can cause reflux.
- Rest your voice, especially if you need to use it a lot throughout the day.
- Use a humidifier, especially in winter or in dry climates.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I call a healthcare provider about problems with my larynx?
If you have certain symptoms that don’t go away or keep coming back, you should talk to a healthcare provider. They include:
- High-pitched, wheezing noise when you breathe or speak (stridor).
- Hoarse voice.
- Lump in the neck or throat.
- Trouble swallowing.
- Voice changes, or not being able to speak or sing like you used to.
Your healthcare provider may refer you to a specialist in otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), laryngology or speech-language pathology.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The larynx, or voice box, is a hollow tube in the respiratory system. It’s important for breathing, making vocal sounds and swallowing safely. Some health conditions can affect the larynx. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have symptoms in your voice or throat that won’t go away or keep coming back.
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