How air enters the lungs?

Have you ever wondered how air enters your lungs? No? Well, tough luck because that’s what we’re going to talk about today. And trust me, it’ll be more interesting than watching paint dry.

It All Starts at the Nose

Sniff sniff, do you smell that? That’s the scent of knowledge about to enter your brain. When we breathe in air through our noses, inspiration occurs (not the kind where you suddenly become a genius artist). The air then travels down our nostrils and into our nasal cavity.

The Nasal Cavity: A Fancy Name for Your Nose Hole

The nasal cavity is basically a fancy name for your nose hole. This area contains many important structures such as:

  • Turbinates
  • Mucous Membranes
  • Nasal Conchae

All these things work together like a Swiss watch to filter out impurities from the air and moisturize it so it doesn’t dry out your lungs when you inhale.

Fun fact: Did you know that when you sneeze, some of your snot can travel up to 100 miles per hour?

Making Our Way Down to the Pharynx

After passing through our snazzy nasal cavity and past whatever boogers didn’t get caught by those ninja-like turbinates, the air now makes its way down towards another sophisticated sounding structure called the pharynx.

Pharynx: Say Ahhhhhh…

Next time someone tells you to say “ahhhh” during a check-up, just go ahead and tell them they’re actually asking for an inspection of your pharyngeal walls (look at all this cool terminology). The pharynx is essentially part of both digestive and respiratory systems– but don’t worry! We won’t be discussing breakfast foods fortified with oxygen or anything weird like that.

The Larynx: Home of the Voice Box

As we continue our little roller-coaster ride down the airways, we eventually hit up against the larynx. It’s like a small house for our voice box (also known as your “Adam’s apple” or “Eve’s pollen grain”), which is why sometimes you can sound hoarse when it gets swollen from an injury or sickness.

If you have a loud and thunderous voice like Morgan Freeman, then you should be thanking your lucky stars for those vocal cords inside this magical organ.

Okay okay, I know–you’re getting excited just thinking about where this wild ride ends up. So without further ado, we finally reach the trachea. Yippee! Well hold your horses honey because there are some more details to go over before you start celebrating too much.

The Trachea: Not Just Any Old Tube…

I mean let’s be real here people–the trachea isn’t just any old tube; it deserves some recognition for being such an integral part of respiration (in case any doubters were out there). The trachea is kept open by cartilage rings on its exterior to keep things flowing smoothly on their way into both lungs (^~^).

Fun Fact: Inhaling through only one nostril makes it harder to breathe.

Now onward march!

Inspiration aka Breathing In

Inhale, exhale–inhale, exhale…there it is folks! We’ve finally made it to what that whole spiel was leading up to – breathing in. This may seem simple but woah buddy! A lot happens in those few moments between air coming into contact with our noses and actually making its way into our lungs:

1) Our diaphragm muscle contracts
2) Air pressure decreases
3) Lungs expand outward
4) Air travels into those bad boys (and girls)

Ta-da! Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk, see you next time…

Just kidding! We ain’t finished yet.

The Bronchial Tree: Because One Tube Isn’t Enough

Okay so everything’s been going pretty smoothly up until now. But what happens when your trachea realizes it can’t handle all the air on its own and needs some assistance? Enter bronchi–nature’s answer to this issue.

Bronchi aka “Broncho-WHAT?”

The bronchi (pronounced bronkhaii…ain’t nobody said science was easy) are basically two branches off of the very end of our trachea that split into both of our lungs, allowing air to travel even deeper inside. Try saying “bronchial tree” five times fast without getting a little dizzy!

Fun fact #2: Our lungs are actually located smack dab in the middle of our chest cavity with one extra lobe in the left lung compared to three lobes on the right side. Looks like someone got gypped here:

Left Lung Right Lung
Superior Superior
Lingula Upper
Inferior Middle

Now back to business…

Arriving at Alveoli Avenue

We’ve done it folks–the final destination for all that oxygen we just breathed in is none other than the alveoli. No big deal or anything right? Wrong.

Alveoli AKA Tiny Air-Sacs Full Of Oxygen

These microscopic guys are found within clusters throughout each lung and act as these nifty little sacs filled with dense oxygen that get distributed through capillaries along their walls.^1 So imagine it like viewing an aerial traffic map where planes need a place to takeoff and land–our bodies rely on alveoli to be like small airports where oxygen-carrying molecules can get picked up and taken through the bloodstream.

Fun Fact #3: Due to their versatility in function (like breathing), lungs are actually one of a few organs that have regenerative properties–so you go lungs, keep being great!

In conclusion folks, we’ve had quite the adventure today. We learned about our nose holes (the nasal cavity), sticking out tongues (the pharynx), luscious voice boxes (larynx) and two tubes working together as one to get us from point A to point B. Through teamwork, they delivered air deep into little sacs called alveoli for this gas exchange transaction.

So go ahead and practice some big words with your friends because now you’re experts at respiratory anatomy! And always remember kids–inhale…exhale.