I don’t need to tell you that men and women have quite a few differences, especially when it comes to our appearances. Men typically have more angular features, while women have softer, rounder contours. Guys usually have a strong brow bone that protrudes further than their female counterparts, and women often have fuller lips.
What I’m most curious about, though, is the bony cartilage that protrudes from a man’s neck. I’m talking about the Adam’s apple. Specifically: Why do men have Adam’s apples, but women don’t? After a bit of research, I learned a few interesting facts about Adam’s Apples — what they are, what they do, and, most importantly, why I don’t have one. Here’s all I know so far.
The Basics About Adam’s Apples
First things first — what exactly is an Adam’s apple, anyway? Scientifically known as the laryngeal mound, the Adam’s apple (also called thyroid cartilage) is a small piece of cartilage that wraps around the front of the larynx or “voice box.” More often than not, it forms in the neck around the time when an adolescent hits puberty. While this little mound is essentially useless, it’s a common physical feature in men.
Okay, so who’s Adam?
The colloquial name Adam’s apple is believed by many to come from the biblical story of Adam and Eve. As the story goes, Adam ate a piece of forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and it got lodged in his throat. (While the Adam’s apple has little to do with apples, it does sort of look like one — a very small, rounded one.) Another theory suggests that Adam’s apple is merely a mistranslation of the Hebrew term for the structure described as “the swelling of a man” (Haubrich).
What’s the purpose of the larynx?
The Adam’s apple may not contribute to any vital bodily functions, but the larynx sure does. The larynx — a hollow tube that lets air pass from your throat (also known as the “pharynx”) to your trachea on the way to your lungs — protects your vocal cords. Also called “vocal folds,” vocal cords help you talk, sing, shout, whisper, and laugh.
Despite what some people think, having a prominent Adam’s apple doesn’t mean you can do any of these things better than someone without an Adam’s apple. Rather, it means that your voice box is slightly larger in size. You can find your larynx by gently touching the front of your throat and humming. When you feel vibrations beneath your fingertips, you’ve found it!
Do women have Adam’s apples?
Both women and men have a larynx, but women are less likely to have a noticeable bump in their throat. In fact, having an Adam’s apple is so closely related to the male sex that experts generally consider it a secondary sex characteristic — just like having a deep voice or facial hair. That said, some women also have a visible Adam’s apple.
Wait — so women can have Adam’s Apples?!
The short answer: Yes. In fact, women do have Adam’s apples (I know, *gasp*), as it is a structural part of the human body. But the degree of laryngeal growth in females isn’t nearly as significant as in males. In simpler terms, the Adam’s apple in women is usually not visible, but in some cases, it can be.
Why do Adam’s apples vary in size?
A better question might be: Why do men have prominent Adam’s apples when women don’t? Well, believe it or not, the growth of the larynx is caused by an important male sex hormone called testosterone. That’s why men typically have a larger larynx — which pushes the thyroid cartilage forward, making it more visible through the skin of the neck — and a deeper voice than women. Basically, the larger the larynx, the more likely a visible Adam’s apple, regardless of sex.
When does the Adam’s apple develop?
The Adam’s apple typically develops during puberty. Until then, girls and boys have similar larynx sizes. This all changes, however, when sex hormones — namely testosterone — flood the body. The larynx grows in size and develops more cartilage to protect the vocal cords. In turn, the voice naturally gets less squeaky. The enlargement of the Adam’s apple is often accompanied by other signs of puberty, like an increase in body hair and acne.
I should also add that the angle at which the Adam’s apple is located around the larynx plays a role in how much it will stand out. Women typically have a much wider angle, meaning our Adam’s apple sits flush against the voice box, which leads to a less noticeable Adam’s apple.
Is Adam’s apple surgery a thing?
Unless there’s an anatomical or medical issue, the size of a person’s Adam’s apple is irrelevant. That said, plastic and maxillofacial surgery techniques are available to reduce the appearance of a prominent Adam’s apple. Recovering from Adam’s apple surgery — whether to enlarge or reduce its size — may take several weeks of recovery. Anyone considering this procedure should deeply research risks and side effects, and keep existing health issues front of mind.
Can a large Adam’s apple indicate another condition?
Not exactly. The size of a person’s Adam’s apple doesn’t relate to any health condition; however, there are some ailments out there that can cause swelling in the larynx or growth in the surrounding areas. As a result, this can cause the Adam’s apple to bulge much more than usual or feel sore. These medical conditions include:
- sore throat
- the common cold
- acute thyroiditis
- laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx)
- goiter (a growth on the thyroid)
- pharyngitis (inflammation of the back of the throat)
- thyroid cancer
- laryngeal cancer
If you’re concerned about the size or appearance of a prominent neck bulge, contact your healthcare provider and request testing. Depending on the cause, treatment can vary, but more often than not, your doctor will prescribe medications such as corticosteroids or antibiotics.
The Core of the Issue
Despite popular belief, everyone has an Adam’s apple. Moms have them; sisters have them; daughters have them — and yes, even you have one. The kicker is that it’s often not as visible in women as it is in men, which is why there’s a major misconception around who does and doesn’t have this body part.
At the end of the day, the Adam’s apple serves no real purpose for the body. Frankly, it’s just kinda’ there. That said, because it’s closely associated with the sex hormone testosterone, it’s considered a secondary sex characteristic for males, like body hair and a deeper voice, and because of this, women who have a prominent Adam’s apple can experience real distress. While there’s no medical reason to remove an Adam’s apple, if it’s affecting your self-confidence, seek medical advice about plastic surgery and other options. There are several techniques for reducing a larger Adam’s apple. Examples include a tracheal shave, which decreases the size of your Adam’s apple (or “laryngeal prominence,” as your doctor might put it), and a chondrolaryngoplasty, which removes it altogether.
So there you have it: Adam’s apple 101!