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What Is The Function Of The Trachea

by Lyndon Langley
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What Is The Function Of The Trachea

What Is The Function Of The Trachea

The human body has many hollow tubes that are used to transport substances from one area to another. Some of these tubes are very large, like the esophagus or the intestines, but most are much smaller — only about 4 inches (10 centimeters) long. One of the smallest tubes is the trachea, which runs through your neck down into your chest. It connects to each lung by way of two openings called the larynx.
The trachea starts as a small opening near the voice box, also known as the larynx. This part of the body contains cartilage, muscle and connective tissue. As you move up through the neck, the trachea grows wider and longer. At the bottom end, it splits into two branches: the left bronchus and right bronchus. These then divide again and branch off to form an intricate system of passageways that eventually lead all the way down to your lungs.
Once inside your lungs, the bronchi split further into more passageways that take on several different names. For example, they can be divided into the upper lobe bronchus, lower lobe bronchus and carina. Within those passageways there are even more subdivisions.
Lungs are important organs because they’re responsible for taking carbon dioxide from our bodies and turning it back into oxygen. They do this using something called diffusion. In simple terms, when you inhale fresh oxygen-rich air, the molecules spread throughout your bloodstream and across your capillary walls. When they get to your blood cells, the oxygen binds with hemoglobin, making them redder and larger, and carrying them around your body. Once the oxygen reaches your tissues, the process stops. That’s why oxygen levels in your blood decrease as soon as you stop breathing.
Now let’s look at the role played by the trachea. Its primary purpose is to act as a path for air to travel between the mouth and the lungs. But what does this mean? How exactly does it help us breathe?
Air Movements Inside Your Chest
There are three main reasons why we need a tracheal passage to allow us to breathe properly. First, the trachea acts as a conduit so that warm moist air can make its journey from the nose to the lungs. Second, the trachea helps regulate how fast air moves into and out of the lungs. And thirdly, the trachea prevents our lungs from being overinflated by too much pressure. We’ll discuss these functions in greater detail later.
To understand how the trachea plays such an important role in breathing, first consider the anatomy of the nose itself. Although the nose is located outside the body, it actually affects how air enters the lungs. If you were to cut open someone’s face and examine their nasal cavity, you’d see that it’s shaped like a funnel leading down toward the pharynx. A series of tiny tubes called nares leads from the top of the nose down into the throat. These nares pick up dust particles, pollen grains and other airborne debris before passing them along to the pharynx. From there, the air makes its way into the oropharynx where it passes through the epiglottis, which closes during swallowing. Finally, it arrives at the larynx, which produces vocal sounds.
This entire route takes place inside the head. However, once the air leaves the larynx, it travels through a narrow channel called the trachea until it finally reaches the lungs. So although the nose may have been the starting point of air flow, it’s not really necessary for the air to go directly to the lungs. Instead, the nasal cavities serve as filters that remove dirt and germs from the incoming air. Without such filtration, foreign matter would block the nostrils and prevent airflow into the lungs.
The next step in airflow is carried out by the tongue. As you probably already know, the tongue is a muscular organ that keeps food moving down the digestive tract while preventing it from blocking the stomach’s exit. By keeping food away from the esophagus, the tongue creates a seal that prevents any fluid from backing up into the gullet. The same thing happens inside the mouth after eating. Food stays on the roof of the mouth, allowing air to easily reach the pharyngolaryngeal space without getting trapped behind the bolus.
Without this barrier, it wouldn’t be possible to swallow and clear the food from the mouth. Swallowing is also essential for proper speech. When you want to talk, the muscles in your tongue contract, causing your lips to purse and forcing the jaw forward to keep your teeth together. Air then flows past the front of your tongue, giving it enough time to expand far enough to cover your entire alimentary canal. Afterward, when you exhale, the air pushes the rear of the tongue backward and forces it against the floor of the mouth. With this movement, saliva lubricates the sides of the mouth to create a safe passage for the air to leave the lungs.
Finally, the trachea serves to protect the lungs from excessive pressure buildups. To understand how this works, imagine trying to inflate a bicycle tire with a hand pump. You’d have to apply lots of force to make the tire swell, but if you suddenly stopped pumping, the excess air might push upward and burst the tire. An inflated lung is no different.
When you inhale, the air comes into contact with the membranes surrounding the lungs. There are elastic fibers within these membranes that become stretched due to increased atmospheric pressure. When the air expands the membrane folds inward, sealing the pleura. Since the pleura are attached to the diaphragm, this causes the diaphragm to relax. When the diaphragm relaxes, the abdomen goes up; therefore, the volume of the thorax decreases and the amount of air that fills the lungs increases. When you inhale, the increase in pressure squeezes the air through the bronchi and into the pulmonary artery. By doing this, the lungs avoid becoming overinflated.

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