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Glottis vs. Epiglottis: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 6, 2023
The glottis is the space between the vocal cords responsible for voice modulation. The epiglottis is a flap-like structure that covers the glottis during swallowing to prevent food from entering the windpipe.

Key Differences

The glottis and the epiglottis are essential structures in the human respiratory system, with each playing a distinct role. The glottis, located within the larynx, is primarily composed of the vocal cords and the opening between them. It's pivotal for vocalization, as sound is produced when air passes through this space, causing the vocal cords to vibrate.
Contrastingly, the epiglottis serves a protective function. It acts as a gatekeeper, standing as a barrier between the trachea (windpipe) and the esophagus. The primary function of the epiglottis is to shield the glottis and the trachea beneath it. During the act of swallowing, the epiglottis folds down to prevent food and liquids from entering the respiratory tract.
While the glottis plays an integral role in producing and modulating sound, the epiglottis is silent in this regard. Their proximity is crucial for ensuring that only air reaches the lungs, and no foreign particles pose a choking risk. Thus, while the glottis is associated with speech, the epiglottis is connected to the act of safe swallowing.
Both the glottis and the epiglottis are vulnerable to injuries and infections. For instance, inflammation of the vocal cords can impact the glottis's function, leading to hoarseness or loss of voice. Similarly, the epiglottis can become inflamed in conditions like epiglottitis, which can be life-threatening due to the potential blockage of the airway.

Comparison Chart


Voice modulation
Prevents food from entering windpipe


Within the larynx
Above the glottis


Vocal cords and the space between them
Leaf-shaped flap of cartilaginous tissue

Role in Breathing

Allows air passage to lungs
Doesn't play a direct role in air passage



Glottis and Epiglottis Definitions


A structure in the larynx responsible for voice.
The glottis tightens during high-pitched sounds.


A flap that prevents food from entering the windpipe.
The epiglottis covers the trachea during swallowing.


The space allowing airflow to the lungs.
Air passing through the glottis makes vocal cords vibrate.


Leaf-shaped structure in the throat.
The epiglottis stands between the larynx and the pharynx.


The opening between the vocal cords.
The size of the glottis varies when one speaks or breathes.


Cartilaginous tissue in the larynx.
An inflamed epiglottis can be a medical emergency.


The slit-like opening in the voice box.
Singers train to control the glottis for different pitches.


Protective structure for the respiratory tract.
The epiglottis ensures that food goes down the esophagus.


The opening between the vocal cords at the upper part of the larynx.


A movable flap above the glottis.
The epiglottis acts as a safety mechanism during eating.


The vocal apparatus of the larynx.


The thin elastic cartilaginous structure located at the root of the tongue that folds over the glottis to prevent food and liquid from entering the trachea during the act of swallowing.


(anatomy) The opening between the true vocal cords which is located in the larynx and affects voice modulation through expansion or contraction.


(anatomy) A cartilaginous organ in the throat of terrestrial vertebrates covering the glottis when swallowing to prevent food and liquid from entering the trachea, and in Homo sapiens also a speech organ.


The opening from the pharynx into the larynx or into the trachea. See Larynx.


A cartilaginous lidlike appendage which closes the glottis while food or drink is passing while food or drink is passing through the pharynx.


The vocal apparatus of the larynx; the true vocal folds and the space between them where the voice tone is generated


A flap of cartilage that covers the windpipe while swallowing


Why is the epiglottis crucial during swallowing?

The epiglottis prevents food and liquids from entering the windpipe, ensuring they go to the esophagus.

What is the primary function of the glottis?

The glottis primarily modulates voice by controlling air passage through the vocal cords.

Is the epiglottis visible?

The epiglottis isn't typically visible without specific medical tools.

Does the glottis affect one's pitch?

Yes, the tension and gap in the glottis influence the pitch of the voice.

What happens if the epiglottis is removed?

Removal can lead to increased risk of aspiration, but the body might adapt with cautionary swallowing techniques.

Do the glottis and epiglottis work in tandem?

Yes, the epiglottis protects the glottis during swallowing, ensuring only air passes through during breathing.

Can the epiglottis be damaged?

Yes, trauma or infections can damage the epiglottis.

Why is epiglottitis considered an emergency?

Epiglottitis can obstruct the airway, leading to breathing difficulties.

Do all animals have a glottis and epiglottis?

While many vertebrates have a glottis, not all have an epiglottis. Its presence varies across species.

How does the epiglottis respond to reflexes?

The epiglottis reflexively covers the windpipe during swallowing.

Can the glottis be seen during a medical examination?

Yes, the glottis can be visualized using laryngoscopy.

What's the role of the glottis in breathing?

The glottis allows air passage to and from the lungs.

Does the size of the glottis change?

Yes, the glottis changes size during speaking, breathing, or singing.

Is the glottis involved in whispering?

Yes, whispering involves the partial closure of the glottis without vibration.

How does the epiglottis aid in digestion?

The epiglottis ensures safe passage of food to the stomach, preventing respiratory complications.

Can surgeries involve the glottis?

Yes, surgeries like cordectomies or those for vocal nodules can involve the glottis.

Are there exercises to train the glottis?

Yes, vocal exercises can help train the glottis for singers and speech therapists.

How does the epiglottis differ in structure from the glottis?

The epiglottis is a leaf-shaped flap, while the glottis is an opening between the vocal cords.

What happens if the epiglottis doesn't function correctly?

A malfunctioning epiglottis can lead to choking or aspiration.

Is inflammation of the glottis common?

Yes, conditions like laryngitis can inflame the glottis, affecting the voice.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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