What Happens Inside Your Respiratory System
"Breath in… breath out!" Can you recall the cliché from your gym instructor or your school teacher? The simple exercise is essential for your respiratory system and vital for the functioning of your other body systems.
The respiratory system integrates with other body systems by the supply of oxygen. When you breathe in, your lungs expand to receive oxygen from the air around you. Through your lungs, the oxygen enters the red blood cells of the circulatory system for distribution to your entire body.
What is the Respiratory System?
The respiratory system is the body's structure involved in gas exchange. On the one hand, the oxygen enters the lungs and into the blood vessels, then to the heart, and eventually, the body cells. On the other hand, the waste gas, carbon dioxide comes from the body cells by the blood vessels into the heart, and then to the lungs for exhalation.
The respiratory system connects to the circulatory system by the pulmonary blood vessels, which transport both gases to and from the heart.
Respiratory System Organs
The organs in the respiratory system are divided into two sections. One is the upper respiratory tract, and the next is the lower respiratory tract.Upper Respiratory Tract
Nasal Cavity – The nasal cavity involves the two nostrils which are always open for air passage into the lungs. The air inside the nose is made warm and humidified in readiness for the warmth in the body. Before passing through the nose to the next organ, some hairs inside the nose called cilia filter the oxygen to trap in the dust and other foreign particles.
Mouth – The mouth is the second respiratory tract entrance beside the nose. Occasionally, after taking some exercises, you get out of breath. Your body then craves plenty of oxygen, and that is when you find yourself using your mouth to breathe. The rapid heartbeat and the muscles when exercising require heavy breathing for extra oxygen.
Throat – The throat or pharynx is the air pathway that begins at the nasal cavity posterior end to extend up to the first part of the larynx. Both food and air pass in the pharynx towards the larynx.
Larynx – The larynx, which is also called the voice box, processes sound by using the air you breathe in. The organ lies above the trachea. The larynx contains a flap layer that only opens to let in air and covers its entrance to prevent foods and liquids from entering the lungs.
Lower Respiratory Tract
Trachea – Also known as the windpipe, is located between the larynx and the bronchi. The organ which is made of ring-like cartridges enables it to remain open at all times for air passage. The organ extends to the part where it splits into two passageways, which is bronchi.
Bronchi – Bronchi is in the plural, while the singular word is bronchus. The bronchi bring in air into the lungs and remove carbon dioxide on the return. The two bronchi further split into other secondary and much smaller bronchi, three on the right and two on the left. The bronchi also divide into other very small tertiary bronchi that continue to split into bronchioles forming branch-like structure.
Bronchioles – The bronchioles extend to connect with the air sacs known as alveoli.
Alveoli – The tiny air sacs attached to millions of bronchioles in your lungs are known as alveoli. The cluster of grapes-like air sacs interchanges the gases as they enter and exit the lungs. The alveoli are the connection between the respiratory system and the circulatory system. Tiny blood vessels attach to alveoli (air sacs) to transport oxygen and bring back carbon dioxide.
Diaphragm – The diaphragm is a respiratory muscle that compliments the lungs in their rhythmic breathing movements. The organ contracts as the lungs inhale oxygen and relax as the lungs exhale carbon dioxide.
The Lungs – All these body organs operate under the main respiratory organs, which are the two lungs. The spongy organ expands as it receives oxygen and contracts as it exhales the waste gas.
Did you know that both your lungs are not of the same size? Yes, the right lung is shorter of the two to provide some room for your liver to fit in. The right lung is also slightly wider of the two. On the other hand, the left lung is the narrow one, providing room for your heart to fit in.
Respiratory System Function
The respiratory system has various functions that benefit other body systems and hence your entire body.Gases Exchange
It is in the alveoli, the air sacs of the lungs that gases exchange takes place. The oxygen passes through alveoli to enter pulmonary capillaries. The capillaries then deliver oxygen to your heart, which pumps it out for delivery to the body cells and tissues.Acid and Base Balance
The respiratory system plays a role in balancing acids and bases in your body. The system regulates the carbonic acid and alkaline (base) in your blood. For your body systems to function efficiently, a tight balance of both the acids and alkaline must be realized.Phonation
Without the air you breathe in, you cannot produce sound. Your vocal cord vibrates to make sounds by the air that passes through your voice box.Smell
As air pass through your nose, you can smell it to either appreciate it or to irritate you. Every time you intend to get the scent of anything, you must inhale.
Be warned! Refrain from smelling everything you come across. Most of the chemicals you may use as pesticides or herbicides are toxic. Besides having cilia (nasal cavity hairs) that prevent dust and harmful smells from getting into your lungs, some noxious odors can be overpowering. Such smells can lead to various respiratory diseases.
Common Respiratory Diseases
Industrial air pollution and agricultural chemicals are the leading causes of most respiratory diseases. Some of the common respiratory conditions are:Coughing
"Why am I coughing?" When you cough beyond your regular reflex action to clean your throat due to some irritations, it should concern you. Some cases of coughing may clear within two weeks, but when your cough exceeds two weeks, it can either be acute or chronic.
Seek treatment immediately to ascertain the cause of your coughing. Some severe infections such as tuberculosis, asthma, whooping cough, or pneumonia can cause an acute or chronic cough.
Some infections might cause frequent coughing. The effects of such infections are flu or cold, which can cause coughing due to the need to clear phlegm discharge in the throat.Coughing Symptoms
Consider the following coughing symptoms that would need medical attention.
- Chest pain
- Productive cough
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in your sputum
- Difficulty in breathing
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that leads to inflammation and narrowing of your lung airways. The condition causes difficulty in breathing, which can limit your oxygen intake.
Asthma attacks can sometimes be worse. Some allergens such as dust, molds, or pollen can cause asthma to flare up. Other causes of asthma flare-up can be perfume, smoke, cold air, or tobacco smell.Asthma Symptoms
Common symptoms of asthma disease include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Pneumonia is an infection that can affect your lungs, causing inflammation to either or both lungs. It mainly affects the alveoli. Some viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms can lead to pneumonia.Pneumonia Symptoms
The infection can be purulent, which can lead to producing pus or phlegm. The lung infection can give you chills and fever, which are some signs of the disease.
Other symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Painful chest when coughing or breathing
- Productive cough with phlegm
- Loss of appetite
- Disorientation (to the elderly)
Emphysema progresses in stages. It has stages one to four. The stages are, mild, moderate, severe, and very severe. The symptoms also continue progressing as the disease progresses. A medical expert can diagnose severity of the condition from the symptoms.
Early Stages Symptoms
In early stages, the noticeable symptoms are chronic cough and difficult breathing leading to shortness of breath.
Later Stages Symptoms
- Chronic cough
- Recurring Lung infections
- Oxygen deprived morning headaches
- Mucus production
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breathe
- Sleeping problems
Tuberculosis of the lungs is a severe contagious infection. It is prevalent in people with low immunity. HIV patients are highly susceptible to the disease because of a weak immune system.
Lung TB-causing bacteria spread to other people through breathing in droplets from an infected person after sneezing or coughing. You can also have TB in other parts of your body, such as the spine or kidneys. But for these other parts, it is not contagious.
Tuberculosis has two main types, latent TB and active TB. Latent TB is a TB infection that is dormant or inactive, with no symptoms and not contagious. However, if not treated, it can change to be active and become infectious.
Active TB strain is a case that is highly contagious and can reveal some symptoms after a few weeks of infection. In the case of a healthy immune system, it can lay dormant for years before the disease shows signs, as in the case of latent TB.Tuberculosis Symptoms
How can you know you have TB? You can, after paying close attention to your body's happenings. You can notice some of the following common TB symptoms:
- Painful chest and especially when breathing or coughing
- Bloody phlegm
- Prolonged coughing of three weeks and above
- Night sweating
- Chills even when in warm weather
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Chronic bronchitis affects bronchial tubes with an infection and inflammation. The disease can lead to persistent coughing and mucus production.
Air pollution and cigarettes smoking are the leading causes of chronic bronchitis. Due to inflammation, the bronchial tubes fill up with mucus causing shortness of breath. The urge to unblock or clear the airways causes coughing.Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis
You would suspect bronchitis if you experience the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness and discomfort
- Chills and feeling feverish
- Producing yellowish/greenish phlegm (mucus)
Your respiratory system consists of tiny organs in your cheekbones and forehead known as sinuses. Mucus passes through sinuses to automatically exit through your nose. A viral infection can cause inflammation and hence blockage to your sinuses, leading to sinusitis.
With proper treatment, sinusitis can improve within a short time.Symptoms of Sinusitis
Your doctor may look for the following symptoms to identify whether and ascertain that you have sinusitis:
- Difficulty in breathing due to a blocked nose
- Ache on the forehead
- Yellowish/greenish mucus discharge
- Bad breath
- Affected sense of smell
When your body cells start to divide rampantly and growing uncontrollably, it can mean cancer. Lung cancer may begin in the lungs or may spread from other body organs to the lungs. Likewise, lung cancer can also spread to your other body organs and your lymph nodes.
Estimated new cases of lung and bronchus cancer in 2019 were 228,150 in the US alone, which translates to 12.9% of the population.
Lung cancer can exist without any alarming symptoms. Early signs of lung cancer are similar to those of common cold or flu and hence can trick you into ignoring the symptoms.Lung Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of advanced lung cancer can include the following:
- Persistent coughing
- Difficulty in breathing
- Hoarse voice
- Uncontrolled weight loss
- Bloody cough
- Frequent headaches
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Lumps in the collarbone or neck
Your entire body health through body systems depends on a healthy respiratory system for the supply of oxygen. For instance, your circulatory system functions with oxygen provided by the respiratory system.
Various factors can contribute to respiratory health issues such as air pollution. We subject our bodies to ingest toxins from unhealthy environments around us.
Protect yourself from inhaling polluted air such as industrial smokes, gaseous chemicals, and other hazardous smells. Even though your respiratory system has its protection mechanisms, such agents can adversely affect your respiratory system.
Be alert to carefully read 'telltale signs' on the onset of any respiratory system diseases. Some conditions may not reveal much at the initial stage. Seek medical attention for any unhealthy changes in your body.
Do you have to wait for your body to signal you of such changes? No, Take action now to stay healthy. Avoid being in any compromising environment or wear protective gear if you must be in such areas. You may want to know how to clean the air in your house or room naturally.
There are 10 body systems in your body. The respiratory system is one of them. Read about the other nine body systems by visiting our website: www.islandhealthworks.com. Write to us through email or commenting here below for more information on your health.
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Editor: Yvonne Dollard Perc
Research Assistant: Elizabeth Njuguna
Designer: Sherry Robb
To learn more, contact Yvonne Dollard Perc at Island Healthworks. Yvonne offers phone consultations where she will develop an individualized health care program and lifestyle plan tailored to your specific needs through a personal health and lifestyle analysis.
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This article is intended for educational purposes and the information contained within is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease or health problem. Please seek appropriate medical attention for any health complaints. We cannot take responsibility for your health care decisions. Our intent is only to offer health information to help you with your search for better health.
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