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A Guide to the Organs of the Respiratory System

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 3/28/2011

The organs of the respiratory system work with other tissues and body systems to control breathing and the elimination of waste gases. Learn more about how this system works to keep you healthy with this guide.

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    Basic Functions

    Before you learn about the organs of the respiratory system, you need to understand the function of this system. The respiratory system acts as the oxygen delivery system for the body. Once oxygen enters the mouth and nose, it travels to the lungs, alveoli and bronchi. All of these components help oxygen enter the blood, where it travels to other organs and tissues. Another major function of this system is the removal of carbon dioxide from the body. Carbon dioxide is a waste product, so the body has to remove it from the bloodstream. This occurs during exhalation, also known as “breathing out."

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    Mouth, Nose and Diaphragm

    Air enters the respiratory system via the mouth and nose. When we inhale – breathe in – the diaphragm pulls air in. The diaphragm consists of sheets of muscle that separate the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity.

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    Trachea and Bronchi

    After entering the body, air travels through the trachea, also known as the windpipe. The windpipe is a bony tube that connects the lungs with the mouth. This tube filters air before it branches into the bronchi, the two tubes that carry air directly to the lungs.

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    Lungs

    Most people list the lungs as the most important organs of the respiratory system. Found within the chest cavity, the lungs consist of spongy tissue that expands and contracts during breathing. When the diaphragm pulls air in from the environment, it expands and reduces the pressure in the chest cavity. This allows air to flow in and inflate the lungs. During exhalation, the diaphragm relaxes and increases the pressure in the chest cavity. This allows air to flow out of the respiratory system and into the environment.

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    Respiratory System Anatomy

    In addition to the major organs of the respiratory system, this system also has several smaller parts that aid in its normal function. The alveoli are tiny sacs that assist in the exchange of gases. The bronchioles are small tubes that branch from the bronchi into the lungs. The epiglottis closes over the trachea to prevent food from entering the airway. The nasal cavity adds warmth and moisture to the air as it enters the body. Pleural membranes cover the lungs and form the chest cavity.

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    Carbon Dioxide Elimination

    In addition to the major organs of the respiratory system, this system also has several smaller parts that aid in its normal function. The alveoli are tiny sacs that assist in the exchange of gases. The bronchioles are small tubes that branch from the bronchi into the lungs. The epiglottis closes over the trachea to prevent food from entering the airway. The nasal cavity adds warmth and moisture to the air as it enters the body. Pleural membranes cover the lungs and form the chest cavity.

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    References

    Franklin Institute: Respiratory System

    Hillendale Health: Respiratory System

    Discovery Health: How Your Lungs Work

    Merck Manual Home Edition: Acid-Base Balance