Your nasopharynx is the top of your throat (pharynx), connecting your nose to your respiratory system. It contains adenoids, which help prevent infection. Also, your eustachian tubes connect from your ears to your nasopharynx, draining fluid and balancing pressure. Conditions that affect your nasopharynx include the common cold and enlarged adenoids.


A diagram showing the location of the nasopharynx.
Your nasopharynx connects your nasal passages to the rest of your respiratory system.

What is the nasopharynx?

Your nasopharynx is the top part of your throat (pharynx). It’s a muscular, box-shaped passageway behind your nose, just above the roof of your mouth. Your nasopharynx allows air to pass from your nose into your windpipe and eventually into your lungs.


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What is the function of your nasopharynx?

The main function of your nasopharynx is to connect your nasal passages to the rest of your respiratory system. This allows air to get from your nose to your lungs.

Your nasopharynx also helps:

  • Control pressure between your nasopharynx and middle ear.
  • Filter dust, debris and germs out of the air you breathe.
  • Produce your voice.


Where is the nasopharynx?

Your nasopharynx is located toward the bottom and back of your skull. It’s in the back of your nose and the roof of your mouth.

The top of your nasopharynx connects to your nasal cavity. The bottom connects to your oropharynx (middle throat), leading to your hypopharynx (lower throat), trachea and eventually lungs.


What does the nasopharynx contain?

Your nasopharynx involves several important structures:

  • Eustachian tubes: These tubes run from the middle of your ears to your nasopharynx. They equalize ear pressure and drain fluid from your ear.
  • Adenoids (nasopharyngeal tonsils): These glands are part of your immune system and help protect your body from viruses and bacteria.

How big is the nasopharynx?

The size of your nasopharynx varies among people. It’s about 2 centimeters in diameter and 4 centimeters long.


Conditions and Disorders

What’s the most common condition affecting the nasopharynx?

The most common condition that affects your nasopharynx is nasopharyngitis, otherwise known as the common cold. This swelling of your nasal passages and throat is sometimes called an upper respiratory infection, or rhinitis.

In nasopharyngitis, a virus (often rhinovirus) infects your nasopharynx. The infection causes symptoms for about a week to 10 days, including:

What other conditions can affect the nasopharynx?

Other conditions that can affect your nasopharynx include:

  • Benign nasopharyngeal tumor: This type of tumor is rare and usually occurs in children and young adults. It usually doesn’t spread to other parts of their body and isn’t life-threatening. But it can grow and cause serious symptoms, including pain, severe epistaxis (nosebleeds) and vision changes. An example is juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibroma.
  • Enlarged adenoids: Repeat infections, allergies or irritants can make your adenoids swell. Enlarged adenoids are common in children but can also occur in adults. Symptoms include nasal blockage, open-mouthed breathing, snoring, sleep apnea, repeat ear infection (otitis media) and sinusitis (inflamed sinuses). Treatment may involve corticosteroids, antibiotics or adenoidectomy (surgery to remove your adenoids).
  • Granulomatosis with polyangiitis: Granulomatosis with polyangiitis is a rare disease that causes inflammation of your blood vessels in your nasopharynx, lungs and kidneys. It’s sometimes called Wegner’s granulomatosis. Symptoms may include sinusitis and nosebleeds. Treatment often includes corticosteroids and cyclophosphamide to suppress your immune system.
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma: This is a type of head and neck cancer, when the cells that line your nasopharynx grow out of control. Symptoms may include trouble breathing, speaking or hearing. Treatment often involves a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery, and new treatments are being studied.
  • Nasopharyngeal cyst: This rare cyst is filled with mucus (fluid). It often causes no symptoms and is found during testing for other health conditions. However, it can cause a runny nose, stuffy nose, headache, ear infection or, rarely, leaking of spinal fluid through your nose. Your healthcare provider may recommend surgical removal of a nasopharyngeal cyst.


How can I keep my nasopharynx healthy?

Some easy strategies can help prevent the common cold and repeat infections that may lead to enlarged adenoids:

  • Avoid other people who are sick. If you’re sick, stay home and keep your distance from other people.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer. This is especially important after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose, and before you handle food.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • If you have to sneeze or cough, move away from other people. Cover your nose or mouth with a tissue or sneeze and cough into the inside of your arm instead of your hand.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot, such as toys, door handles and phones.

Additional Common Questions

When should I call a healthcare provider?

Seek medical attention if you experience:

  • Chills.
  • Cold symptoms that last longer than 10 days.
  • Fever, especially in babies.
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches and fatigue (extreme tiredness).
  • Frequent, repeated headaches, sore throats or nosebleeds.
  • Lump in your nose, throat or neck.
  • Pain or ringing in your ear.
  • Symptoms that seem unusual or very bad.
  • Trouble breathing, speaking or hearing.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your nasopharynx is a passageway in your throat that allows air to pass from your nose to your lungs. The most common conditions to affect your nasopharynx are the simple cold and swollen adenoids. But diseases may also occur, including cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any pain or unusual symptoms, especially if they don’t go away after a week to 10 days.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/04/2022.

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