Difference Between Trachea and Esophagus

Main Difference – Trachea vs Esophagus

Trachea and esophagus are two tubular structures found in the neck region of humans. Though they are closely located structures, their functions differ from each other. The trachea belongs to the respiratory system whereas the esophagus belongs to the digestive system. The main difference between trachea and esophagus is that trachea is the major bronchi or the windpipe of humans whereas esophagus is the food pipe, which connects the pharynx to the stomach. The trachea transport air in and out of the lungs. The esophagus transports food from the pharynx to the stomach.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Trachea
      – Definition, Characteristics, Function
2. What is Esophagus
      – Definition, Characteristics, Function
3. What are the Similarities Between Trachea and Esophagus
      – Outline of Common Features
4. What is the Difference Between Trachea and Esophagus
      – Comparison of Common Features

Key Terms: Cartilaginous Rings, Digestive System, Esophageal Sphincter, Esophagus, Pharynx, Respiratory System, Stomach, Trachea

Difference Between Trachea and Esophagus - Comparison Summary

What is Trachea

Trachea is the main windpipe of the respiratory system of humans. It is a nearly cylindrical structure. A cross-section of the trachea is D-shaped.  The trachea starts from the inferior part of the larynx. It divides into left and right bronchi at the T4-5 vertebrae. The diameter of the male trachea is higher than that of the female trachea. The length of the trachea is around 11 cm. The incomplete, cartilaginous rings are present anteriorly and laterally along the trachea. But, the posterior side does not have those cartilaginous rings. These rings are U-shaped and are made up of hyaline cartilage.

Difference Between Trachea and Esophagus

Figure 1: Trachea

A typical trachea contains 15-20 cartilaginous rings. They prevent the collapse of the membranous tube during inhalation. The carina is a keel-like partition at the bottom of the trachea, which separates the two bronchi from each other. The trachea is shown in figure 1. 

What is Esophagus

Esophagus is a part of the alimentary canal, which connects the throat to the stomach. It conduits food and liquids swallowed into the pharynx in order to reach the stomach. The length of the esophagus is around 25 cm. The esophagus occurs posterior to the trachea. The esophagus passes through the esophageal hiatus in the diaphragm and reaches the stomach. The upper esophageal sphincter is the structure, which closes the upper esophageal opening. During swallowing, it opens, allowing the food to move into the esophagus. The wave-like muscle contractions of the esophagus called peristalsis move the food through the esophagus. The peristalsis is a part of the swallowing process.

Main Difference - Trachea vs Esophagus

Figure 2: Esophagus

The lower esophageal sphincter prevents the backward movement of food in the stomach to the esophagus. Vomiting voids the contents of the stomach through the esophagus. It is important to remove harmful substances out from the body. The components of the esophagus are shown in figure 2

Similarities Between Trachea and Esophagus

  • Both trachea and esophagus are two tubular structures in the neck region of humans.
  • Both trachea and esophagus perform transport functions.
  • Both trachea and esophagus are muscular tubes, which are lined by a mucous membrane.

Difference Between Trachea and Esophagus

Definition

Trachea: Trachea is a large membranous tube which extends from the larynx to the bronchial tubes and is strengthened by the cartilage rings. 

Esophagus: Esophagus is a part of the alimentary canal which connects throat to the stomach.

Component 

Trachea: The trachea is a windpipe, which belongs to the respiratory system.

Esophagus: The esophagus is a food pipe, which belongs to the digestive system.

Length

Trachea: The trachea is 10-11 cm long.

Esophagus: The esophagus is 25 cm long.

Connection

Trachea: The trachea connects the upper airway to the lungs.

Esophagus: The esophagus connects the mouth to the stomach.

Anatomy

Trachea: The trachea is cartilaginous and made up of C-shaped semicircular cartilages.

Esophagus: The esophagus is muscular, and produces wave-like motions to propel food.

Opening of the Tube

Trachea: The opening of the trachea is protected by the epiglottis.

Esophagus: The opening of the esophagus is protected by two sphincters. 

Positions

Trachea: The trachea is composed of two parts; the cervical part and the thoracic part.

Esophagus: The esophagus is composed of three parts: cervical part, thoracic part, and abdominal part.

Conclusion

Trachea and esophagus are two tubular structures that occur in the neck region of humans. The trachea carries air to the lungs while the esophagus carries food to the lungs. The trachea connects to the pharynx through the larynx. The esophagus is directly connected to the pharynx. The main difference between trachea and esophagus is the type of materials passed by each tube in the body.

Reference:

1.“Trachea Anatomy.” Overview, Development of the Human Trachea, Gross Anatomy, 3 Nov. 2016, Available here. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017.
2.“Esophagus.” InnerBody, Available here. Accessed 21 Sept. 2017.

Image Courtesy:

 1. “Blausen 0865 TracheaAnatomy” By Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014″. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. – Own work (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “2412 The Esophagus” By OpenStax College – Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site. Jun 19, 2013. (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things

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