Does the Oropharynx Include the Larynx?

Reviewed on 3/17/2022

Woman holding her throat (red for illustration)
The oropharynx does not include the larynx (voice box). The oropharynx includes the back third of the tongue, the soft palate and uvula, the middle part of the throat behind the mouth, the side and back walls of the throat, and the tonsils.

The oropharynx is located at the back of the mouth behind the oral cavity and just below the nasal cavity and includes: 

  • The back third of the tongue
  • The soft palate, including the uvula
  • The middle part of the throat behind the mouth
  • The side and back walls of the throat
  • The tonsils

The oropharynx does not include the larynx (voice box).

What Is the Function of the Oropharynx?

The functions of the oropharynx include: 

  • Digestive: the muscles in the oropharynx help push through chewed and swallowed food and drink into the esophagus on its way to the stomach
  • Respiratory: inhaled air is warmed and moistened before it passes through to the lungs
  • Speech: the muscles and other parts of the oropharynx help produce the sounds that make up speech

What Are Problems that Can Affect the Oropharynx?

Problems with the oropharynx include: 

  • Swallowing disorders (dysphagia)
    • Stricture, web or tumor, weakness or incoordination of the pharyngeal muscles
    • Poor opening of the upper esophageal sphincter
    • Pharyngeal diverticulum 
    • Weakness of the soft palate and pharynx 
    • Cancer
    • May be caused by neurologic problems such as stroke 
  • Tongue disorders
  • Problems with the tonsils
    • Recurrent acute pharyngitis
    • Recurrent acute strep throat infections 
    • Enlarged tonsils
    • Tumors or cancer of the tonsils
    • Recurrent/large tonsil stones
    • Medical problems
    • Abnormal growths on the vocal cords
    • Muscle disorders affecting the voice box
    • Throat cancer

What Is the Treatment for Problems of the Oropharynx?

Treatment for problems of the oropharynx depends on the condition. 

Treatment for swallowing problems may include: 

  • Treatment of the underlying disorder causing the problem
  • Dietary modification
  • Swallow therapy
  • Dilatation
  • Quitting smoking 
  • Compensatory maneuvers
  • Esophagectomy
  • Changing medications that are causing the problem
    • Never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor

Treatment for tongue disorders may include:

  • Treating any underlying condition causing the problem
  • Topical antifungals
  • Topical steroids
  • Gentle brushing or scraping of tongue 
  • Antiviral medications
  • Surgery 

Treatment for problems with the tonsils may include:

  • No treatment needed if a sore throat is caused by a virus
    • Treatment is aimed at relief of symptoms
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers 
    • Salt-water gargle
    • Throat sprays with topical anesthetics (e.g., benzocaine, phenol) 
    • Lozenges (cough drops) with topical anesthetics c (lozenges are not recommended for young children; they can be a choking hazard)  
    • Sipping warm beverages (e.g., tea, chicken soup), cold beverages, or eating cold or frozen desserts (e.g., ice cream, popsicles) 
  • Strep throat is a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics
  • Tonsillectomy (surgical removal of the tonsils)

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Reviewed on 3/17/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/oropharynx

https://sciencetrends.com/pharynx-function-and-definition/

https://www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0415/p2453.html

https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0301/p627.html

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sore-throat-in-adults-beyond-the-basics?search=Pharyngitis&source=search_result&selectedTitle=6~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=6