Basic Respiratory Physiology

Respiratory System:

  • Primary function is to obtain oxygen for use by body's cells & eliminate carbon dioxide that cells produce
  • Includes respiratory airways leading into (& out of) lungs plus the lungs themselves
  • Pathway of air: nasal cavities (or oral cavity) > pharynx > trachea > primary bronchi (right & left) secondary bronchi > tertiary bronchi > bronchioles > alveoli (site of gas exchange)
  • The exchange of gases (O2 & CO2) between the alveoli & the blood occurs by simple diffusion: O2 diffusing from the alveoli into the blood & CO2 from the blood into the alveoli. Diffusion requires a concentration gradient. So, the concentration (or pressure) of O2 in the alveoli must be kept at a higher level than in the blood & the concentration (or pressure) of CO2 in the alveoli must be kept at a lower lever than in the blood. We do this, of course, by breathing - continuously bringing fresh air (with lots of O2 & little CO2) into the lungs & the alveoli.Breathing is an active process - requiring the contraction of skeletal muscles. The primary muscles of respiration include the external intercostal muscles (located between the ribs) and the diaphragm (a sheet of muscle located between the thoracic & abdominal cavities).

    The external intercostals plus the diaphragm contract to bring about inspiration:

  • Contraction of external intercostal muscles > elevation of ribs & sternum increased front- to-back dimension of thoracic cavity lowers air pressure in lungs air moves into lungs
  • Contraction of diaphragm diaphragm moves downward increases vertical dimension of thoracic cavity lowers air pressure in lungs air moves into lungs:

To exhale:

  • relaxation of external intercostal muscles & diaphragm return of diaphragm, ribs, & sternum to resting position restores thoracic cavity to preinspiratory volume increases pressure in lungs air is exhaled