THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

By Zara Coburn

What is the respiratory system?

The primary function of the respiratory system is to supply the blood with oxygen in order for the blood to deliver oxygen to all parts of the body. The respiratory system does this through breathing. When we breathe, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. This exchange of gases is the respiratory system's means of getting oxygen to the blood.

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What organs are in the respiratory system?

The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the interchanges of gases, and consists of the:

  • Nose
  • Mouth (oral cavity)
  • Pharynx (throat)
  • Larynx (voice box)
  • Trachea (windpipe)
  • Bronchi
  • Lungs

The upper respiratory tract includes the:

  • Nose
  • Nasal cavity
  • Ethmoidal air cells
  • Frontal sinuses
  • Maxillary sinus
  • Sphenoidal sinus
  • Larynx

The lower respiratory tract includes the:

  • Trachea
  • Lungs
  • Airways (bronchi and bronchioles)
  • Air sacs (alveoli)


Lung diseases and conditions

Breathing is a complex process. If injury, disease, or other factors affect any part of the process, you may have trouble breathing.

For example, the fine hairs (cilia) that line your upper airways may not trap all of the germs you breathe in. These germs can cause an infection in your bronchial tubes (bronchitis) or deep in your lungs (pneumonia). These infections cause a buildup of mucus or fluid that narrows the airways and limits airflow in and out of your lungs.

If you have asthma, breathing in certain substances that you're sensitive to can trigger your airways to narrow. This makes it hard for air to flow in and out of your lungs.

Over a long period, breathing in cigarette smoke or air pollutants can damage the airways and air sacs. This can lead to a disease called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD prevents proper airflow in and out of your lungs and can hinder gas exchange in the air sacs.

An important step to breathing is the movement of your diaphragm and other muscles in your chest, neck, and abdomen. This movement lets you inhale and exhale. Nerves that run from your brain to these muscles control their movement. Damage to these nerves in your upper spinal cord can cause breathing to stop, unless a machine is used to help you breathe. (This machine is called a ventilator or a respirator.)

A steady flow of blood in the small blood vessels that surround your air sacs is vital for gas exchange. Long periods of inactivity or surgery can cause a blood clot called a pulmonary embolism (PE) to block a lung artery. A PE can reduce or block the flow of blood in the small blood vessels and hinder gas exchange.

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Why Do I Yawn?
When you are sleepy or drowsy the lungs do not take enough oxygen from the air. This causes a shortage of oxygen in our bodies. The brain senses this shortage of oxygen and sends a message that causes you to take a deep long breath---a YAWN.


Why Do I Sneeze?
Sneezing is like a cough in the upper breathing passages. It is the body's way of removing an irritant from the sensitive mucous membranes of the nose. Many things can irritate the mucous membranes. Dust, pollen, pepper or even a cold blast of air are just some of the many things that may cause you to sneeze.


What Causes Hiccups?
Hiccups are the sudden movements of the diaphram.It is involuntary --- you have no control over hiccups, as you well know. There are many causes of hiccups. The diaphragm may get irritated, you may have eaten to fast, or maybe some substance in the blood could even have brought on the hiccups.

Fun facts

  • The right lung is slightly larger than the left.
  • Hairs in the nose help to clean the air we breathe as well as warming it.
  • The highest recorded "sneeze speed" is 165 km per hour.
  • The surface area of the lungs is roughly the same size as a tennis court.
  • The capillaries in the lungs would extend 1,600 kilometres if placed end to end.
  • We lose half a litre of water a day through breathing. This is the water vapour we see when we breathe onto glass.
  • A person at rest usually breathes between 12 and 15 times a minute.
  • The breathing rate is faster in children and women than in men.