The epiglottis is a leaf-shaped flap of cartilage located behind the tongue, at the top of the larynx, or voice box. The main function of the epiglottis is to seal off the windpipe during eating, so that food is not accidentally inhaled. The epiglottis also helps with some aspects of sound production in certain languages.
Swelling of the epiglottis is called epiglottitis. This condition can block airflow to the lungs and is, therefore, potentially life-threatening. Epiglottitis can have many causes, including burns from hot beverages, throat injury, or bacterial infections.