Why Do Men Have an Adam's Apple and What Does It Do?
If you’re an adult male reading this, there’s a good chance that you have a noticeable bulge in your throat. Your throat! Get your mind out of the gutter for five minutes. Now that you’re way too aware of your own Adam’s apple, and it’s feeling a little tighter than normal, you might wonder why it’s there to bother you in the first place. Well, friend, all of the answers you never knew you needed are coming your way.
First, A Debunking
We’ll get into the what’s, why’s and how’s of the Adam’s apple in a minute. Before that, it’s important to address an extremely common misunderstanding. The most common question is why men have Adam’s apples and women don’t. This isn’t quite right. Both sexes have the apple, but it is usually much more pronounced in men than women.
If you think about children for a minute, you might be able to figure out why. Before puberty, how many boys or girls have a pronounced Adam’s apple? The answer is not many. Without getting ahead of ourselves, we can identify that Adam’s apples seem to grow and get easy to spot at some point during puberty. If puberty is the difference, then we can guess that testosterone is the primary reason for the change.
That ends up being true. When males start producing more testosterone during puberty, many parts of their bodies grow as a result. It’s why virtually every body part is bigger on men than on women. This applies to the Adam’s apple too.
What Is It?
Now that we have established that the Adam’s apple is not uniquely masculine physiology, we have to wonder what it is and why it can be unnoticeably small on half the world’s population. The answer to all of this is pretty easy, but we might get a little technical while we’re at it. The medical name for an Adam’s apple is the laryngeal prominence. It’s also frequently called the thyroid cartilage. You and your buddies use that name when you go out drinking, right? Ok, maybe that term is only common among medical professionals.
As the names suggest, the Adam’s apple is a chunk of cartilage that sits on top of the larynx. Being made of cartilage, it’s pretty solid, but it isn’t bone hard. You can poke your own if you have any doubts. More specifically, the Adam’s apple is a round protrusion of cartilage. The larynx has its own set of cartilage that isn’t considered part of the apple, so you have to be pretty specific when you refer to the laryngeal prominence.
What Does it Do?
Since it’s made of cartilage, you might assume it protects something. That’s usually the case, but the Adam’s apple has no clearly defined biological purpose or function. Kind of like your appendix or a few other parts, doctors don’t really think you need it. That’s a good thing since it’s so small on females and kids anyway.
This makes more sense if you learn about the larynx. This part of your body protects your vocal cords and voice box. The larynx technically includes a few different parts, and one of them is the protective cartilage that keeps you from going mute if you take a soft blow to the throat.
Considering that, you might consider that the Adam’s apple is just extra reinforcement for the larynx. Some biologists speculate that this used to be true, but that modern humans just don’t need the extra defense. Others say that it’s just extra cartilage that is produced as a byproduct of large testosterone levels and that it never served a key purpose.
You can really tell that the Adam’s apple doesn’t matter because it gets cosmetically removed or reduced. Some people are self-conscious about it. In other cases, it’s part of gender reassignment surgery. Regardless, these procedures have never caused a known impact on the physical well-being of patients. If you can get rid of it and be fine, it might not serve a key function in your body.
Why Is it Called the Adam’s Apple?
While that’s not the technical name, you might be wondering why this bulge in dude’s throat is named after one guy in particular. If you’re guessing this has to do with the story of Adam and Eve and their garden, you’re right.
The name stems from the Abrahamic tradition. According to legend, when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, some of it was lodged in his throat. As a reminder of his wrongdoing, that chunk of fruit was left there for all of his days. Then, to make sure no one ever forgot, Adam’s descendants were cursed with the same bulge.
Obviously this story has nothing to do with modern medicine’s take on the Adam’s apple, but sometimes it’s fun to learn the origin of names and the mythology that often goes with it.
Health Issues Related to the Adam’s Apple
Let’s start with some good news. Your Adam’s apple is just a pile of cartilage. There are no blood vessels in it, and it typically stops growing after puberty. There’s really not much that can go wrong with it. You don’t have to worry about getting it checked once you hit 50 or any other scary stuff. Typically speaking, if you feel like something is wrong with your Adam’s apple, it’s actually related to something else. In fact, there are three different conditions that might cause your prominence to feel tight, uncomfortable or even painful.
Hopefully, you know what your thyroid is. It’s a thing in your neck that helps your body regulate a bunch of hormones and functions. It’s pretty important, and thyroids that are out of balance can mess up your life in a hurry. As for the Adam’s apple, it will usually only indicate thyroiditis (as opposed to other thyroid conditions). This is an inflammation of the thyroid. It’s usually temporary and doesn’t require medical attention, but as always, an extreme case could send you in search of a doctor. Thyroiditis is usually paired with a more significant infection (like a cold) and the swelling that occurs can cause your Adam’s apple to feel tightness or pressure.
Inflammation of the Trachea
We talked about the larynx earlier. Usually in biology class you learn about the trachea and larynx together. While the larynx protects your voice, the trachea is there to manage airflow and keep you from choking. Sometimes, it gets inflamed. Just like with thyroiditis, the inflammation can cause swelling that will create pressure on the Adam’s apple.
Most sources of tracheal inflammation are pretty minor. Pretty much anything that gives you a cough or a sore throat might inflame the trachea. In these cases, you don’t need to worry about your Adam’s apple. Instead, treat the cough, runny nose and sore throat. And, as always, if it seems out of hand then get professional help.
Inflammation of the Epiglottis
Now we’re really getting technical. Before we explain this issue, we need to issue a disclaimer to you hypochondriacs out there. Inflammation of the Epiglottis is extremely rare. If your Adam’s apple feels persistent pressure or pain, it’s more likely that you have swollen lymph nodes or a sinus infection.
Now that we have that out of the way, inflammation of the Epiglottis can be pretty serious. The Epiglottis is the soft tissue that covers your windpipe, and it rarely gets a serious infection. It might suffer a little if you have a bad cold or bacterial infection, but most of you reading this have never been aware of it in your life. That said, there are rare cases where it does become inflamed, and it’s usually paired with pretty severe illness.
Aside from pain in the Adam’s apple, this condition might include symptoms like shortness of breath, sore throat, painful swallowing and fever. Now, before you convince yourself that you have the problem you just read about, here’s a trick. Inflammation of the Epiglottis does not include a cough. If you’re coughing, this isn’t your problem.
Since this inflammation usually only happens when you’re very sick, it’s important to see a doctor. Most of the time the greater infection is more important than the epiglottal inflammation, and you’ll usually beg for a doctor before things get this far.
Alright. That covers just about all there is to say about the Adam’s apple. It’s simple part of your body and not one you ever really need to worry about. But, the next time someone talks about how men have Adam’s apples and women don’t, you get to be that guy. Just try to show a little grace before the words “well, actually” slip from your mouth.