, Volume 192, Issue 1, pp 27–31 | Cite as

Airway Protective Mechanisms



Cough and swallow are highly coordinated reflex behaviors whose common purpose is to protect the airway. The pharynx is the common tube for air and food/liquid movement from the mouth into the thorax, has been largely overlooked, and is potentially seen as just a passive space. The thyropharyngeus muscle responds to cough inducing stimuli to prepare a transient holding area for material that has been removed from the subglottic airway. The cricopharyngeus muscle participates with the larynx to ensure regulation of pressure when a bolus/air is moving from the upper airway through to the thorax (i.e., inspiration or swallow) or the reverse (i.e., expiration reflex or vomiting). These vital mechanisms have not been evaluated in clinical conditions but could be impaired in many neurodegenerative diseases, leading to aspiration pneumonia. These newly described airway protective mechanisms need further study, especially in healthy and pathologic human populations.


Pharynx Cricopharyngeus Thyropharyngeus Cough Swallow 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiological Sciences, College of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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