The Human Body

Pharynx

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Air leaves the nasal passages and flows to the pharynx, a short, funnel-shaped tube about 13 cm (5 in) long that transports air to the larynx. Like the nasal passages, the pharynx is lined with a protective mucous membrane and ciliated cells that remove impurities from the air. In addition to serving as an air passage, the pharynx houses the tonsils, lymphatic tissues that contain white blood cells. The white blood cells attack any disease-causing organisms that escape the hairs, cilia, and mucus of the nasal passages and pharynx. The tonsils are strategically located to prevent these organisms from moving further into the body. One tonsil, called the adenoids, is found high in the rear wall of the pharynx. A pair of tonsils, the palatine tonsils, is located at the back of the pharynx on either side of the tongue. Another pair, the lingual tonsils, is found deep in the pharynx at the base of the tongue. In their battles with disease-causing organisms, the tonsils sometimes become swollen with infection. When the adenoids are swollen, they block the flow of air from the nasal passages to the pharynx, and a person must breathe through the mouth.