What Cavity Is The Trachea In
If you were to look at your body from above, you would see an amazing thing – the human anatomy is organized like a tree with branches coming out of the trunk. This organization provides not only a clear view of where things are but also makes it easier for doctors to find their way around inside our bodies. When we talk about this anatomical arrangement, we usually refer to the head as the “trunk” since it contains most of the important organs. However, if you looked at your body from below, you might notice something else interesting. Your body’s main passageways (the arteries) connect to each other through what looks like a giant net. These nets, called vessels, are like tunnels made up of tiny tubes that branch off here and there. And just like the network of roads on a map, these networks allow information and materials to flow freely between different parts of the body. One such artery that connects to many others is the aorta, which is often referred to as the common carotid or sometimes even more simply as the “common” artery.
In order to understand how the system works, let’s take a closer look at one particular vessel called the trachea. If you lay your tongue along your neck, you’ll feel a long, thin structure running down to your chest. That long, thin structure is actually a hollow passage called the trachea. But what does the word trachea mean? Well, according to Merriam-Webster, the word comes from the Latin root “tractus,” meaning “bundle.” So, technically speaking, the trachea is a bundle of smaller structures that run all the way down from the larynx to the bronchial tubes. If you imagine taking a piece of string and wrapping it around your finger several times, then pulling it apart so that each loop hangs down individually, you can get an idea of how the trachea functions.
One end of the trachea leads into the windpipe while the other end opens up into two openings called the vocal cords. Because the trachea runs right next to the windpipe, it helps protect us by forming a barrier against infection. Inside the trachea are three sections: the upper portion, middle section and lower section. We call the first part of the trachea the pharynx. The second section is called the larynx. Surrounded by muscles, the larynx houses the voice box. Finally, the third area is called the esophagus because it leads straight down toward the stomach.
Now that we know some basic facts about the trachea, let’s move on to why cavities exist in the first place. As mentioned earlier, the trachea begins as a single-layered cylinder that gradually splits into various branches. At birth, the trachea forms the pathway for air to travel in and out of the lungs. Once the baby starts breathing outside his mother’s womb, she takes over the job of pushing air through the trachea using her diaphragm. During fetal development, the trachea enlarges and eventually divides into two primary passages: the left and right sides. Each side becomes connected to the heart via valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. Just before the tracheal opening, the right lung separates from the rest of the trachea. Afterward, the left lung separates and moves out of the way. Now that we’ve established what happens when the trachea is formed, let’s learn about the role that cavities play in the process.
Cavities Are Not Always Bad
As mentioned earlier, cavities form within the trachea due to the action of certain bacteria. Normally, those bacteria cause no harm. For example, if someone inhales viruses or bacteria, they will be filtered out by the mucus membranes lining the nose and throat. But if the virus or bacteria make it past those defenses, the bacteria will begin breaking down the tissues in the wall of the airway. Eventually, the bacteria will create holes in the tissue. Since the trachea is composed primarily of cartilage, it doesn’t have any bone structure. Therefore, the hole won’t close itself up like it would in the case of a cut wound. Instead, the cavity will continue to expand until it causes problems.
Because the trachea plays a crucial role in protecting the airways from infections, it must maintain an adequate level of strength. This means that the cells within the trachea need to produce high levels of collagen fibers. Collagen is a protein responsible for keeping skin, tendons and other tissues strong. Unfortunately, the same collagen proteins also help build up scar tissue as well. Over time, the constant production of collagen weakens the trachea’s ability to hold together. This is especially true once the person reaches adulthood.
Once the problem gets worse, the patient may experience difficulty swallowing food and liquids. He or she may also develop chronic coughs that don’t go away. Other symptoms include hoarseness, wheezing and swelling in the chest. Although medical science hasn’t discovered what exactly triggers the disease, most cases occur during cold seasons. A doctor can diagnose the condition by performing X-rays, fiber optic imaging and biopsy procedures to determine whether the trachea has been damaged or destroyed. In severe cases, patients may need surgery to repair the damage.
So far, we’ve talked mostly about the good work done by cavities. On the next page, however, we’re going to examine the bad effects of this natural phenomenon.
Bad Effects Of Cavities
Just as people who live near construction sites always seem to suffer from headaches after storms, people who reside in areas with lots of cavities generally complain of pain. Fortunately, the majority of cases involving pain occur in children, although adults do report feeling discomfort as well. The reason for this is that kids’ bones are much weaker than adults’, making them more susceptible to the negative effects of cavities. Children also spend more time lying down and sleeping, further increasing their chances of developing painful cavities. Adults, on the other hand, typically spend less time lying down and sleep more. While this isn’t completely conclusive evidence, it seems logical enough to conclude that adults should use toothpaste with fluoride in order to avoid getting cavities.
Aside from causing pain, cavities can lead to serious health complications, including pneumonia, stokes, respiratory disorders and lung infections. People who have weakened immune systems are also at higher risk of contracting pneumonia. With that said, however, it’s worth pointing out that most infections caused by cavities are treatable at home without professional medical assistance.
Tooth decay is another effect that cavities can have on people. Left untreated, decaying teeth can irritate surrounding nerves and cause abscessed gums. Additionally, bacteria associated with tartar formation can enter the bloodstream, causing potentially dangerous conditions like heart attack, kidney failure or meningitis. Luckily, dental care professionals are trained to remove plaque buildup and clean infected gum pockets. To properly manage the situation, patients should visit dentists twice per year.
While cavities are certainly unpleasant, they aren’t necessarily fatal. They can be treated successfully with proper diagnosis and treatment plans.
I was surprised to learn that cavities actually serve a useful function. I’m sure that many readers will disagree with me, though, considering that the vast majority of people try to avoid being stuck in a room full of smoke whenever possible.
American Medical Association. “Dental Care Basics.” http://www.ama-assn.org/go/dentalcarebasics.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Whooping Cough Overview.” http://www.cdc.gov/ncird/dvrd/whooping_cough.html
Merriam-Webster. “Trachea Definition.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/trachea
National Institutes of Health. “Tuberculosis.” http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/TB/overview/index.htm
National Library of Medicine. “Viral Infections.” http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/pmcenres/search.action?query=infection%20type%3A+AND+strain%3A+Influenza+OR+influenza+viruses&sortBy=author
Rosenberg, Norman L., MD. “Acute Flaccid Myelitis Caused By Enterovirus D68.” http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/302825-overview
University of Michigan Hospitals. “Smoking Cessation Clinic.” http://health.umich.edu/smoking/cessationclinic/default.aspx
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Common Cold Symptoms.” http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/HealthInfo/symptoms/cold_illness.php
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