Most Of The Carbon Dioxide In The Blood Is Transported As
When you’re lying down at night your blood pressure drops and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in your body increases. This happens because CO2 is heavier than oxygen (O2), so it’s pushed out of your bloodstream into your tissues. If the difference between these two gases gets too big, however, some can escape through tiny openings known as alveoli where gas exchange takes place. The result is an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels. It does not, however, affect the level of CO2 in your blood stream. When this occurs, it’s called hypercapnia.
Hypercapnia is one of several conditions that are sometimes described as acidosis. All of them involve having more CO2 in your system than O2. For example, if there were twice as much CO2 as O2, we’d say you had respiratory alkalosis. A third condition, hypocapnia, would be having half as many CO2 molecules per O2 molecule. And finally, when there’s just about equal amounts of CO2 and O2, we call it euoxia. But what’s going on inside our bodies makes all these terms seem like child’s play compared to a pneumothorax.
You see, whenever you inhale air, most of the carbon dioxide (CO2) enters your lungs. About 90 percent of it then passes through the thin membrane separating fluid within the lung tissue from the outside world. Once here, the majority of it is absorbed by blood cells. Only a very small portion of the total enters the blood stream. This means that only a fraction of the CO2 produced while breathing will ever make it into your bloodstream.
The rest is ejected right back up your nose and throat. It doesn’t stay there long though, since the same chemical reaction that produces CO2 also causes water vapor to form. Water vapor moves freely through the air until it reaches anything dry, such as your mouth. At that point it condenses and disappears. Since CO2 isn’t something your body wants hanging around, it’s expelled.
So how do we get rid of it? Well, there are three ways. First, the carbon dioxide can leave your body directly through your skin. Second, it can exit via the mouth. Third, it can be exhaled through your breath. We humans have developed all kinds of ways to help expel carbon dioxide from our bodies, including things like blowing hard through pursed lips, holding our breath or even wearing specially-designed masks.
But what happens when we have a pneumothorax? How does it change the way our bodies process CO2?
As mentioned earlier, most of the CO2 produced during inhalation is quickly taken up by the blood. So, unless someone else is giving us CPR, chances are good that any increase in the amount of CO2 in our blood won’t last very long. What’s happening with a pneumothorax is similar to what happens when you go swimming laps — you’ve got lots of fresh water coming in but no way to release it. Your blood becomes saturated with CO2.
Once your blood saturates with carbon dioxide, it starts looking for other places to store it. One option is the hemoglobin found in red blood cells. Hemoglobin is important because it binds to oxygen (O2) to carry it around the body.
Hemoglobin’s job isn’t affected by a pneumothorax; it still carries oxygen throughout the body. However, when CO2 attaches itself to hemoglobin, the protein loses its ability to bind with O2. Normally, hemoglobin combines with O2 in the presence of carbonic acid. When CO2 replaces the H+ ions normally bound to hemoglobin, the end product is deoxyhemoglobin. With enough carbon dioxide present, the pH of the blood falls below normal levels.
Because the pH of our blood affects how everything works, the body must adjust. To counteract the drop in pH, the kidneys produce more bicarbonate ions. These combine with hydrogen ions to create new carbonic acid and then release it back into the blood. As they do this, the kidneys excrete sodium ions that normally work together with chloride ions to keep our extracellular fluids acidic. Without the sodium, the extra hydrogen ions start raising the pH above normal levels.
With a proper medical response, a person suffering from a pneumothorax should experience little difficulty. However, if left untreated, a patient could suffer serious complications. Pneumothoraces are typically treated using needles inserted between the ribs to allow air to drain. Afterward, patients spend time recuperating in bed before returning to their regular routine.
While most people recover uneventfully after a pneumothorax, others may find themselves unable to breathe properly. In addition, if the air leaks out slowly instead of being forced out by a needle, the problem may worsen over time. Such cases require treatment involving placing tubes near the top of the chest cavity to allow air to pass out without forcing it out of the lungs.
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