How to Test Cranial Nerve 9: The Glossopharyngeal Challenge!

Cranial nerve 9, also known as the glossopharyngeal nerve, is responsible for several functions in the body, including swallowing, taste sensation, and the movements of the tongue and throat muscles. Any damage to this nerve can therefore be very debilitating, leading to difficulty eating or speaking normally. For this reason, it is important to be able to test the function of the glossopharyngeal nerve effectively in order to diagnose any related conditions. In this article, we will look at the glossopharyngeal challenge, which is a simple test that can be used to help evaluate the function of cranial nerve 9 in humans.

The Basics of Cranial Nerve 9

Before we can understand how to test for cranial nerve 9 function, it is important to understand a little bit about the anatomy and physiology of the nerve itself.

Cranial nerve 9 is one of the 12 cranial nerves, which are responsible for controlling various structures and functions of the head and neck. It arises from the medulla oblongata, which is part of the brainstem, and exits the skull via the jugular foramen. The nerve then branches into several different parts, each of which is responsible for a different function.

Functions of Cranial Nerve 9

  • Motor function: The glossopharyngeal nerve is responsible for controlling the movement of certain muscles in the throat, including the stylopharyngeus muscle.
  • Sensory function: The nerve also carries sensory information from parts of the tongue and throat to the brain, including taste sensation and information about blood pressure and oxygen levels in the carotid bodies.
  • Autonomic function: Cranial nerve 9 plays a role in regulating certain involuntary functions of the body, including salivation and the reflexes involved in swallowing and vomiting.

The Glossopharyngeal Challenge

The glossopharyngeal challenge is a simple test that can be used to help evaluate the function of cranial nerve 9. The test involves touching the back of the patient’s throat with a cotton swab or tongue depressor, which can cause a gag reflex.

Step-by-Step Instructions

To perform the glossopharyngeal challenge, follow these step-by-step instructions:

  1. Ask the patient to open their mouth and say “ahh.”
  2. Using a clean cotton swab or tongue depressor, touch the patient’s uvula (the small, fleshy flap that hangs down from the roof of the mouth) gently for a few seconds.
  3. Observe the patient’s response. A normal response is a gag reflex, which involves the patient coughing or gagging in response to the stimulus.
  4. If the patient does not respond or responds abnormally, this may indicate that there is a problem with the function of cranial nerve 9 or another related nerve.

Interpreting the Results

The glossopharyngeal challenge can provide important diagnostic information about the function of cranial nerve 9. Normal responses indicate that the nerve is functioning normally, while abnormal or absent responses may suggest that there is a problem with the nerve or its associated muscles. However, it is important to note that this test should be used in conjunction with other diagnostic tests and evaluations to confirm any suspected diagnoses.

Conditions That Affect Cranial Nerve 9 Function

There are several different conditions that can affect the function of cranial nerve 9, including:

  • Glossopharyngeal neuralgia: This is a rare condition that involves sharp, stabbing pain in the back of the throat or tongue. It is caused by irritation or damage to the glossopharyngeal nerve.
  • Dysphagia: This is a condition that makes it difficult to swallow normally, and can be caused by a variety of factors, including damage to cranial nerve 9.
  • Tonsillitis: Inflammation of the tonsils can sometimes cause symptoms that affect cranial nerve 9 function, such as difficulty swallowing or a sore throat.

Treatment Options

The treatment for cranial nerve 9-related conditions will depend on the underlying cause of the problem. In some cases, treatment may involve medications to help manage pain or other symptoms. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair damage to the nerve or associated muscles.

Precautions and Safety Information

Before performing any diagnostic tests or treatments related to cranial nerve 9, it is important to take certain precautions to ensure patient safety. These may include:

  • Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves or goggles, to prevent the spread of infection or other hazards.
  • Obtaining informed consent from the patient before performing any tests or treatments.
  • Ensuring that the patient is in a comfortable and safe position before performing any tests or treatments.


The glossopharyngeal challenge is a simple but effective test that can be used to help evaluate the function of cranial nerve 9. By following the step-by-step instructions outlined in this article, healthcare professionals and other practitioners can use this test to help diagnose a variety of conditions that affect the glossopharyngeal nerve and its associated structures. However, it is important to remember that this test should be used in conjunction with other diagnostic tools and evaluations, and that the interpretation of results should be left to qualified medical professionals.

FAQs: Common Questions and Answers

Q: Can the glossopharyngeal challenge be performed by non-medical professionals?

A: While the glossopharyngeal challenge is a simple test, it should only be performed by qualified healthcare professionals who have experience and training in diagnosing and treating conditions related to cranial nerves.

Q: What is the risk of complications or side effects from the glossopharyngeal challenge?

A: The glossopharyngeal challenge is generally considered very safe and low-risk. However, there is a small chance that the patient may experience complications such as bleeding or infection following the test.

Q: Are there any alternatives to the glossopharyngeal challenge for testing cranial nerve 9 function?

A: Yes, there are several other tests that can be used to evaluate the function of cranial nerve 9, including electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies. These tests are generally more invasive and require specialized equipment and training, but they can provide more detailed information about nerve function.

Q: What happens if the glossopharyngeal challenge results are abnormal?

A: If the glossopharyngeal challenge produces abnormal or unexpected results, further diagnostic testing may be necessary to confirm a diagnosis and determine the underlying cause of the problem. This may include additional physical exams, imaging studies, or laboratory tests as needed.

Q: What can be done to prevent damage to cranial nerve 9?

A: There is no way to completely prevent damage to cranial nerve 9, as many conditions or factors that can cause nerve damage are outside of our control. However, some steps that may help reduce the risk of nerve damage include practicing good oral hygiene and avoiding certain high-risk activities, such as using tobacco or alcohol excessively.


  1. “Cranial Nerve IX – Glossopharyngeal Nerve”. TeachMeAnatomy. Retrieved 22 February 2021
  2. “Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia”. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Retrieved 22 February 2021
  3. “Dysphagia”. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved 22 February 2021

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *