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Anatomy of the Respiratory System

What is respiration?

Respiration is the act of breathing:

  • Inhaling (inspiration)--taking in oxygen

  • Exhaling (expiration)--giving off carbon dioxide

What makes up the respiratory system?

Illustration of the human respiratory system
Respiratory System - Click to Enlarge

The respiratory system is made up of the organs involved in the interchanges of gases, and consists of the:

  • Nose

  • Mouth (oral cavity)

  • Pharynx (throat)

  • Larynx (voice box)

  • Trachea (windpipe)

  • Bronchi

  • Lungs

The upper respiratory tract includes the:

  • Nose

  • Nasal cavity

  • Ethmoidal air cells

  • Frontal sinuses

  • Maxillary sinus

  • Sphenoidal sinus

  • Larynx

  • Trachea

The lower respiratory tract includes the:

  • Lungs

  • Airways (bronchi and bronchioles)

  • Air sacs (alveoli)

What are the functions of the lungs?

The lungs take in oxygen, which the body's cells need to live and carry out their normal functions. The lungs also get rid of carbon dioxide, a waste product of the cells.

The lungs are a pair of cone-shaped organs made up of spongy, pinkish-gray tissue. They take up most of the space in the chest, or the thorax (the part of the body between the base of the neck and diaphragm).

The lungs are enveloped in a membrane called the pleura.

The lungs are separated from each other by the mediastinum, an area that contains the following:

  • Heart and its large vessels

  • Trachea (windpipe)

  • Esophagus

  • Thymus

  • Lymph nodes

The right lung has three sections, called lobes. The left lung has two lobes. When you breathe, the air:

  • Enters the body through the nose or the mouth

  • Travels down the throat through the larynx (voice box) and trachea (windpipe)

  • Goes into the lungs through tubes called main-stem bronchi

    • One main-stem bronchus leads to the right lung and one to the left lung

    • In the lungs, the main-stem bronchi divide into smaller bronchi

    • And then into even smaller tubes called bronchioles

    • Bronchioles end in tiny air sacs called alveoli

Online Resources

American Cancer Society  http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1x_What_Is_Non-Small_Cell_Lung_Cancer.asp?sitearea=
American Lung Association  http://www.lungusa.org/site/c.dvLUK9O0E/b.22551/k.F8CD/Your_Lungs.htm
American Lung Association  http://www.lungusa.org/site/c.dvLUK9O0E/b.22576/k.7FFF/Human_Respiratory_System.htm
American Lung Association  http://www.lungusa.org/your-lungs/how-lungs-work/
American Medical Association  http://www.medem.com/?q=medlib/article/ZZZ8PPLCGJC

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.