The respiratory system is a complex process that is essential to sustaining life. The act of breathing takes place thousands of times every day without much thought as to what is actually occurring within the body. With each breath, the respiratory system works in a complicated process to bring oxygen to the bloodstream, where it will be taken to the rest of the body. Without this intricate system of respiration, life could not continue. It is therefore important to understand this process that allocates the continuation of life.
Respiratory System Overview
Breathing is the first step in the work of the respiratory system. Air is taken into the body through the mouth and nose where it travels toward the lungs. It passes the larynx and the trachea, and enters the tubes called the bronchi, which lead to the lungs. The lungs contain small air sacs called alveoli, which are adjacent to the body’s circulatory system and exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood vessels to carry to oxygen to the rest of the body. Within the chest cavity there is also a large muscle called the diaphragm that is located below the lungs. The diaphragm moves up and down to facilitate inhalation and exhalation.
- The Human Respiratory System: An explanation of breathing and what happens after air has been taken into the body.
- Breathing: A complex explanation of the processes of inspiration and expiration.
- Human Physiology: Respiration: A brief text explanation of respiration, but includes several videos to watch the process of breathing.
- Respiratory System: A description of the physical components of each aspect of the respiratory system.
- The Human Respiratory System: An overview about breathing, with interesting facts and frequently asked questions.
- Human Respiratory System Physiology: A comprehensive text about breathing and the exchange of gases within the body.
The respiratory system is intricately involved in other functions of the body as well. The process of cellular respiration is the activity of how a cell gains energy for use in the body. Molecules are broken down into their primary components through the process of digestion. One of the primary components, glucose, must undergo another process called glycolysis. The energy that is released during glycolysis is utilized to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which gives the cells energy. The process of formulating ATP requires oxygen, which is brought into the circulatory system through respiration.
- Cellular Respiration and Fermentation: A description of the chemical process of glycolysis.
- Cellular Respiration Overview: An explanation of the process of creating energy for the body’s cells.
- Cellular Respiration Song: A song with words to help remember the process.
- Using Chemical Energy to Drive Metabolism: The process of making cellular energy and the conversion of molecules into ATP.
- Cellular Processes: Basic explanations of food breakdown, glycolysis, and aerobic respiration.
The human lung is the foundation of the respiratory system and an essential component for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Each lung is connected to a bronchus, which is a respiratory tube at the end of the trachea. The lungs are made of spongy lobes: the right lung has three lobes and the left has two. The spongy material is actually comprised of millions of tiny air sacs, called alveoli. The alveoli are surrounded by tiny capillaries, which are the smallest type of blood vessel in the body. When air is taken into the lungs, it fills the alveoli, allowing the transport of oxygen from the lung tissue into the capillaries and then on to the rest of the circulatory system. Alternatively, carbon dioxide that is in the circulatory system is transferred back into the lungs and released into the air through expiration.
- How the Lungs Work: A breakdown of the respiratory system from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- Lung Lobes: Medical radiographic images of normal lung lobes to determine correct anatomy.
- The Lungs: A basic explanation of the anatomy of the lungs.
- A History of the Lungs: An interesting description about historical theories of the purpose of the lung, before its actual function was determined.
- Habits of the Heart: The Lungs: Animations and facts about the respiratory system.
- Lung Attack: An interactive site showing the process of normal respiration vs. the effects of pollution on the lungs.
Respiratory System Complications
Respiratory conditions cause difficulty with breathing and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the bloodstream. Several factors can contribute to the development of respiratory diseases. Some illnesses, such as asthma, are genetic and cause intermittent problems with breathing. Other diseases, such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, can be due to environmental conditions such as smoking or pollutants. The alveoli of the lungs are fragile tissues that are susceptible to damage from external irritants. Treatment is available from various sources for respiratory diseases and sufferers can seek help and resources when these conditions occur.
- World Health Organization: An overview of chronic respiratory diseases, with resources and publications.
- Respiratory Diseases: A list of common respiratory diseases and statistics from the Healthy People 2010 initiative.
- Occupational Respiratory Disease: Information about respiratory disease caused by occupational exposure to irritants.
- Respiratory Diseases: Various respiratory diseases of adults, including external factors and irritants.
- Medline Plus: Basic information, symptoms, and treatment of asthma.
- Emphysema: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of emphysema.
- Rare Lung Diseases Consortium: Information and testing about pediatric interstitial lung disease.
The respiratory system provides essential oxygen exchange for the body as well as assists with the production of energy. Every day, breathing takes place through this complex system that is necessary for life.