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The epiglottic vallecula or vallecula epiglottica in Latin (‘vallecula’ meaning little valley) is a depression that acts as a borderline area between the pharynx and the larynx. It lies immediately behind the root of the tongue, on each side of both the median and lateral glossoepiglottic folds (plica glossoepiglottica mediana, plica glossoepiglottica lateralis).
The valleculae, along with the pyriform sinuses, a pear shaped recess present on each side of the laryngeal orifice, are known as the pharyngeal recesses or side pockets. They are called so because they are a common site for food to become entrapped before or after the swallowing reflex kicks in. The vallecula also serves as a ‘spit trap’, a site where the saliva is held in temporarily to prevent the triggering of the swallowing reflex.
Clinically, the vallecula acts as an important reference landmark during the intubation process of the trachea. The blade of the laryngoscope should be placed as far as possible into the epiglottic vallecula to allow better visualization of the glottis, the opening between the vocal cords at the upper part of the larynx.
Vallecular cysts are a rare benign lesion of unknown etiology that usually arise from the lingual aspect of the epiglottis region. It may cause a lump sensation during swallowing, and laryngeal inlet blockage along with respiratory distress in severe cases.
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