Whether you have a chronic lung condition or not, it is important to understand how your respiratory system works so that you can properly care for it.
What is Your Respiratory System’s Job?
Your respiratory system is a remarkable thing. Many small parts work together to create a very important function – breathing! It does this by taking in oxygen, a gas you need, and releasing carbon dioxide, a gas harmful to your body. Your respiratory system works like an efficient machine but when you breathe polluted air, it can cause a strain on the system and result in breathing issues or lung disease.
Identifying the Different Parts of the Respiratory System
Usually, when people think of the respiratory system, the first thing that comes to mind is lungs. Actually, your respiratory system is comprised of numerous parts. Each part resides in one of two sections: the upper tract and the lower tract.
1. The Upper Tract
Your upper respiratory tract includes your mouth and nose, as well as your sinuses and nasal cavity. Oxygen enters your body through your mouth and nose, while your sinuses act as a passageway and filter through the rest of your respiratory system.
2. The Lower Tract
Your lower respiratory tract includes your throat, voicebox, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, alveoli, diaphragm, and lungs. In short, your upper respiratory tract is responsible for bringing in oxygen, while your lower respiratory tract is responsible for carrying it to the lungs.
How Does Your Respiratory System Work?
As already stated, your mouth and nose act as open airways to allow air into your body. Once inhaled, air travels through your trachea (windpipe). There, it is filtered through “cilia,” small hairs that prevent foreign particles from circulating through your body. Next, the air travels through your two bronchi, which act as airways from your trachea into your lungs. Your bronchi split into bronchioles (smaller airways), which in turn lead to your alveoli. Your alveoli are tiny air sacs that are covered in blood vessels that transport the oxygen from the air into your lungs.
When you inhale, several things have to move out of the way so your lungs can fill. The force of the breath pushes your diaphragm down and your ribs out, making room for your lungs to expand. When your body has finished taking in the necessary oxygen, everything then happens in reverse. However, instead of oxygen traveling back through your airways, your body eliminates carbon dioxide.
How Does a Chronic Lung Condition Affect Your Respiratory System?
Obviously, a chronic lung condition indicates that your respiratory system is not performing entirely as it should. When you have a chronic lung condition such as asthma, COPD, or cystic fibrosis, your respiratory system overreacts to various triggers. This overreaction can lead to several different results.
First, your muscles may contract, preventing air from reaching your bronchioles. Second, your bronchi may overproduce fluids or mucus. This prevents you from breathing easily, which means your body does not get the oxygen it needs. Your body usually goes into a panic to get more oxygen, which is why you may experience chronic coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
While chronic lung conditions are scary and often difficult to manage, understanding how your respiratory system works can help. Learn how your body works so you can better control your symptoms and triggers.