Respiratory System

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RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

The Respiratory System is crucial to every human being. Without it, we would cease to live outside of the womb. During inhalation or exhalation air is pulled towards or away from the lungs, by several cavities, tubes, and openings. The organs of the respiratory system make sure that oxygen enters our bodies and carbon dioxide leaves our bodies.

The respiratory tract is the path of air from the nose to the lungs. It is divided into two sections: Upper Respiratory Tract and the Lower Respiratory Tract. Included in the upper respiratory tract are the Nostrils, Nasal Cavities, Pharynx, Epiglottis, and the Larynx. The lower respiratory tract consists of the Trachea, Bronchi, Bronchioles, and the Lungs or alveoli. As air moves along the respiratory tract it is warmed, moistened and filtered.

I. ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY

Upper Respiratory Tract

The upper respiratory tract consists of the nose and the pharynx. Its primary function is to receive the air from the external environment and filter, warm, and humidify it before it reaches the delicate lungs where gas exchange will occur.

Air enters through the nostrils of the nose and is partially filtered by the nose hairs, then flows into the nasal cavity. The nasal cavity is lined with epithelial tissue, containing blood vessels, which help warm the air; and secrete mucous, which further filters the air. The endothelial lining of the nasal cavity also contains tiny hairlike projections, called cilia. The cilia serve to transport dust and other foreign particles, trapped in mucous, to the back of the nasal cavity and to the pharynx. There the mucus is either coughed out, or swallowed and digested by powerful stomach acids. After passing through the nasal cavity, the air flows down the pharynx to the larynx.

Lower Respiratory Tract

The lower respiratory tract starts with the larynx, and includes the trachea, the two bronchi that branch from the trachea, and the lungs themselves. This is where gas exchange actually takes place.

1. Larynx
The larynx (plural larynges), colloquially known as the voice box, is an organ in our neck involved in protection of the trachea and sound production. The larynx houses the vocal cords, and is situated just below where the tract of the pharynx splits into the trachea and the esophagus. The larynx contains two important structures: the epiglottis and the vocal cords. The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage located at the opening to the larynx. During swallowing, the larynx (at the epiglottis and at the glottis) closes to prevent swallowed material from entering the lungs; the larynx is also pulled upwards to assist this process. Stimulation of the larynx by ingested matter produces a strong cough reflex to protect the lungs. Note: choking occurs when the epiglottis fails to cover the trachea, and food becomes lodged in our windpipe. The vocal cords consist of two folds of connective tissue that stretch and vibrate when air passes through them, causing vocalization. The length the vocal cords are stretched determines what pitch the sound will have. The strength of expiration from the lungs also contributes to the loudness of the sound. Our ability to have some voluntary control over the respiratory system enables us to sing and to speak. In order for the larynx to function and produce sound, we need air. That is why we can't talk when we're swallowing.

2. Trachea
The trachea or the windpipe is located in front of the esophagus. It begins at the lower edge of the crocoid cartilage of the larynx and extends to the level of the fourth and fifth thoracic vertebra. The trachea branches into the right and left mainstem bronchi at the carina. The trachea is composed of 6 – 10 C-shaped cartilaginous rings. The open portion of the C is the back portion of the trachea and contains smooth muscle that is shared with the esophagus.

3. Mainstem Bronchi
The mainstem or primary bronchi begin at the carina....
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