Without the epiglottis, we would not be able to swallow without drowning in whatever we're drinking. We would suffer aspiration, pneumonia or death when we ate if the epiglottis was absent. It's an important and necessary part of the body and our day-to-day functions. During swallowing, the tongue pushes down on the larynx. This forces the flap, the epiglottis, to close.
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The function of the epiglottis is to prevent food and drink from falling down the airway. The epiglottis, a flap at the base of the throat, touches the back of the tongue and opens when swallowing occurs. It allows food and drink to safely pass into our digestive system. Failure of epiglottis functioning results in choking or a drink "going down the wrong way." This simply means that food or drink has been taken into the respiratory system by mistake, and it must be coughed up.
The epiglottis allows the swallowing of food and drink to be transferred to the digestive system to allow nutrients to be delivered to the body. This function is usually automatic with the swallowing reflex. Sometimes when eating or drinking, food or liquid will fall towards either side of the epiglottis into pockets and will be coughed up safely.
Prevention of accidental choking while eating is to breathe through the nose and not the mouth. Breathing through the mouth while eating may cause a pea, kernel of corn or other food to get caught in the epiglottis. Such a thing may causing choking. The Heimlich manoeuvre will be necessarily to dislodge the piece of food in order to allow the victim's airway to be cleared.
Frequent foods that get caught in the epiglottis and cause choking hazards include hot dogs, apples, celery, raisins, grisly meats, fish bones, hard candy, gum, whole grapes, and carrots. Finely grated fruit may be all right. Peanut butter, although soft, is dry and sticks to the palate. It may get stuck on the epiglottis. To prevent this, scrape peanut butter on bread sparingly, and monitor children while they're eating.
The epiglottis, situated at the top of the larynx just above the glottis, does not always remain in its normal upright position, especially at night when it may fall backward covering the glottis. This could make the sufferer unable to breathe. This condition is called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). See your doctor regarding remedies.
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