Thursday, October 19, 2006

Your hangy ball...

...has a purpose! You've seen it. It dangles in the back of your throat like a piece of jewlery. I've always wondered, but I've never really known what its good for.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that the hangy ball (uvula) serves as a barrier against bacteria and other sources of infection along with the tonsals. This turns out to only be partially true. Interestingly, the tonsals and uvula aren't very good at this job and get infected themselves regularly. Their removal is one of the most common surgeries in all of medicine.

The uvula actually serves its most important purpose in newborns! It turns out that in newborns, the back of the throat is still developing, and these newborns haven't quite mastered the skill of breathing and eating separately and getting everything down the correct holes in the back of the throat. In these newborns, the uvula is positioned so that as they nurse they can drink milk and breath at the same time! As we grow, the back of the throat becomes elongated, so that the uvula no longer can hang in such a position, and thus we have to choose between swallowing and breathing, and can no longer do them simultaneously.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:23 PM

    The uvula plays an important role in the articulation of the sound of the human voice to form the sounds of speech.[1] It functions in tandem with the back of the throat, the palate, and air coming up from the lungs to create a number of guttural and other sounds. Consonants pronounced with the uvula are not found in English; however, languages such as Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Ubykh, and Hmong use uvular consonants to varying degrees. Certain African languages use the uvula to produce click consonants as well. In English (as well as many other languages), it closes to prevent air escaping through the nose when making some sounds.