Upper & Lower Respiratory System

Advice to Anesthetists: Lose anything you like – but NEVER-EVER lose your patient’s airway!

Apprentice Doctor Club / Chapter: Module Three: The Airway – it’s all about Oxygen!

The respiratory system is the bodily system responsible for moving Oxygen from the atmosphere and facilitating the transfer of Oxygen into the bloodstream, as well as moving Carbon Dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere.

This might be a bit simplistically stated – as the respiratory system will serve for carrying other useful gasses like anesthetic gasses from the vaporizer in the anesthetic machine to the bloodstream and it will get rid of any other waste gasses e.g. alcohol.

Alcohol in the blood (following drinking alcohol-containing beverages) will also evaporate from the bloodstream into the alveoli of the lungs – thus one can smell when someone had too much to drink. Traffic officers use breathalyzers to measure the evaporated alcohol from a driver’s lungs thus getting a very accurate estimate of the blood-alcohol level.

Upper & Lower Respiratory System

Figure 1: Have a look at the different part of the upper and lower respiratory system

(Illustration credit: Wikipedia)

Air takes the following route from the outside environment up to the small air-sacs (alveoli) in the lungs:

Outside atmosphere nasal passages (occasional the oral cavity)  the pharynx (throat)  the larynx (voice-box) here it will pass the vocal cords  trachea (windpipe)  bronchi  bronchiole  alveoli of the lungs  bloodstream

Now the throat (pharynx) is an incredible part of the human anatomy. Consider the following:


The pharynx is shared by two systems of the body – the respiratory system and the digestive system. One breathes air and swallows food – and rarely does it happens that food slips into the larynx! This is due to a set of complex reflexes and an intricate valve structure called the epiglottis.

Have a look at the swallowing process as captured radiographically

Also consider the unbelievable control it takes by professional singers to control the vocal cords producing the variations of exact frequencies, volume and quality of sound – indeed developing his/her voice into an immensely sophisticated art form!

To complete the fun practical Projects in Module Three, you will need:

Your Apprentice Doctor Kit

Study the Respiratory System on the CD-ROM and then do the following projects:

PROJECT 33: Determine the Respiratory Rate

PROJECT 34: Listen to a person’s Respiratory Sounds

PROJECT 35: Differentiate between various types of Breathing Movements

The cardiovascular and the respiratory systems work intimately together to get Oxygen to each and every cell of the human body. One might say that the respiratory system relies on the cardiovascular system to supply it with a constant flow of blood. Without this constant flow, the respiratory system cannot do its work.

Let’s look a condition called a lung embolus.

But first – let’s get 3 definitions well understood:

Thrombus: A blood clot in a blood vessel or within the heart.

Embolus: Something that travels through the bloodstream, lodges in a blood vessel and blocks it. Examples of emboli are a detached blood clot, a clump of bacteria, and foreign material such as air.

A lung or pulmonary embolus is a blood clot that has been carried through the blood into the pulmonary artery – the main blood vessel from the heart to the lung – or one of its branches, plugging that vessel.

If the Respiratory System intrigues you – you may consider becoming an Anesthetist.

Have a look at the following links:

Becoming an Anesthetist

Becoming a surgeon

One of the main responsibilities of an anesthetist is to ensure that the patient is receiving enough Oxygen during a general anesthetic – and therefore to always ensure an intact airway (guaranteed path of Oxygen flow to the lungs). One of the key skills in ensuring an intact airway is endotracheal intubation (placing an IT tube down the throat of the patient into the trachea – to administer Oxygen and anesthetic gasses to the patient).

Here is a great article on the human respiratory system: “ACLS Guide to the Human Respiratory System”

Become an Apprentice Doctor:

Upper & Lower Respiratory System

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