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The Respiratory System


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    The role of the respiratory system is to send oxygen (breathing air contains 16% oxygen) to our red blood cells which will in turn carry the oxygen to every cell of our body. We need about 250 g of oxygen per day to fuel up all our cells. This seems a very simple function, but the air needs to be heated, humidified and filtered clear of particles. Then, the air needs to reach the lungs, and the oxygen needs to go through some cell layers to reach the hemoglobin in the red blood cell. In addition, the respiratory system also works to remove the carbon dioxide from the blood. The carbon dioxyde is a waste gas produced by the cells after burning the oxygen. These processes must be precisely controlled to maintain optimal levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Too much oxygen and our cell will 'burn' by oxydation, and too much carbon dioxyde and we will sufficate.

Respiratory System Sinus Nose Sinus Nasal cavity Pharynx Larynx Trachea Bronchi Superior lobe, left lung Inferior lobe, left lung Superior lobe, right lung Middle lobe, right lung Inferior lobe, right lung
Diagram of the main parts of the respiratory system.

    The respiratory system can be divided in four parts: 1) the upper airways that serve as conduits for channeling the air to the lungs, 2) the lungs which are the site for the gas exchange, 3) the diaphragm and other accessory muscles that serve as a pump to pull air into the lungs, and 4) the nervous system that controls frequency of breathing and tidal volume for each breath, depending upon the gas dissolved in the blood, our emotions, stress levels and other parameters.

    Another function of our respiratory system, which has nothing to do with breathing, is to provide the necessary wind to our vocal cords to produce sounds and speech.

    Also, by controlling the amount of carbon dioxide in our blood, breathing can participate to regulate the acid-base balance of our body fluids.

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