Purpose of an Adam's Apple

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The Adam's apple is more prominent in men than women.
The Adam's apple is more prominent in men than women. (Image: the man looks in a distance image by Soloshenko Irina from Fotolia.com)

The laryngeal prominence, more commonly known as the Adam's apple, is a protrusion of thyroid cartilage surrounding the larynx. This protrusion appears as a lump along the center of the throat, and moves vertically when speaking or swallowing. The Adam's apple is considered to be a secondary sexual characteristic of men and is more visible in adult males than in females or prepubescent males.

Naming

There are two possible explanations for the common name "Adam's apple." The first derives from the Genesis story of Adam, who ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge in Eden. The thyroid cartilage resembles a chunk of apple lodged in the throat of a male, thus being a piece of Adam's apple trapped during swallowing. The second, and more likely, possibility is that the Hebrew phrase “tappuach ha adam” or “male bump” was misappropriated into English.

Features

The Adam's apple is the anterior fusion of the two thyroid laminae. These two pieces of cartilage grow on the sides of the voice box, and fuse at the front of the throat. The angle of fusion is more sharp in males, resulting in a bump visible through the skin. The Adam's apple is made of soft cartilage that hardens over time, so that teenagers and adolescents may have flexible Adam's apples, and elderly persons have firm, inflexible lumps.

Development

The Adam's apple develops during puberty. As the individual matures sexually, the vocal cords grow, and the larynx expands, causing the cartilage surrounding the larynx to elongate and fuse into an Adam's apple. Many young men will develop an Adam's apple while experiencing the wild changes in voice tone, or voice-cracking, associated with puberty; both are secondary results of the growth of the vocal cords and larynx.

Functions

The Adam's apple itself provides no real anatomical function. The cartilage that surrounds the larynx serves primarily to protect the vocal cords within the throat. The size of the Adam's apple does not affect how protective the larynx can be; however, unnaturally altering the Adam's apple through trachea-shaving surgery (chondrolaryngoplasty) can damage the vocal cords or thyroid laminae.

Gender

Prominent Adam's apples appear more commonly in men and are used by many to determine the sex of an individual. However, the cartilage surrounding the larynx can fuse at any angle in either males or females, so there are a wide range of sizes of Adam's apples in both genders. Those who find their Adam's apples to be too large can undergo a chondrolaryngoplasty, a surgery in which laryngeal cartilage is removed to reduce the size of the lump.

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