The human body is organized into numerous complex systems that interact with each other in order for it to function and sustain life. One of those vital systems is the respiratory system. The main function of the respiratory system is to consume oxygen and expel carbon dioxide, otherwise known as breathing, or ventilation. Oxygen is diffused into the bloodstream and carried throughout the body to tissues and cells to drive necessary reaction in the mitochondria in which carbon dioxide is a waste gas product. There are other various functions of the respiratory system such as acid-base regulation in the blood, vocalization through the mouth, pathogenic defense in the airways and the activation of plasma proteins. The respiratory system consists of many organs that allow for it to function effectively and efficiently; the organs are divided into three sections: the upper airway, respiratory tract, and the thoracic cavity. The upper airway consists of the nasal and oral cavity and the pharynx. The respiratory tract consists of the larynx, trachea, bronchi, and alveoli. The thoracic cavity consists of the lungs and the diaphragm. These organs function together to enable us to sustain life through breathing.
As previously stated, breathing is the uptake of oxygen for cellular processes and the expulsion of carbon dioxide waste. Breathing is divided into two separate processes: inspiration and expiration. During inspiration, the diaphragm contracts, decreases in size and moves downward to allow the lungs to expand and increase volume. The air from outside the body is inhaled through the nasal or oral cavity and is filtered by cilia, or small hairs that line the cavity, to prevent foreign particles from entering air pathway. The inhaled air enters and passes through the pharynx, or throat, towards the larynx. The air then passes through the larynx and enters the trachea, or windpipe, which then splits into the left and right bronchial tubes that lead into each lung. The bronchial tubes branch off into smaller tubes called bronchioles. Located at the end of each bronchiole are small sacs called alveoli which is the location where oxygen from the inhaled air diffuses into the bloodstream through the respiratory membrane. During expiration, the diaphragm relaxes, increases in size and moves upward to compress the lungs and decrease in volume. Carbon dioxide from the bloodstream is diffused through the respiratory membrane into the alveoli and forced out the same way the air entered the body.
The process of ventilation is driven behind the concept of Boyle’s law which states that the pressure is inversely proportional to the volume of a given quantity of gas. Essentially, the respiratory system works by producing pressure gradients between the atmospheric pressure and the intra-alveolar pressure, the pressure inside the alveoli. During inspiration, the diaphragm contracts, increasing the volume of the lungs which decreases the intra-alveolar pressure below atmospheric pressure causing air to move into the body. Expiration is the opposite, the diaphragm relaxes and enlarges and decreases the volume of the lungs which increases the intra-alveolar pressure above atmospheric pressure causing air to move out of the body.
The respiratory system’s primary function is to provide the body with oxygen through inspiration and expel the carbon dioxide gas through expiration. The organs that constitute the respiratory system create a pressure gradient in which the breathing process is solely based upon. Sometimes the pressure gradient can be disrupted by a chronic lung disease called asthma. Asthma is a chronic lung disease in which the muscles surrounding airways become inflamed and narrowed resulting in the loss of airflow into the lungs.
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