The nose and tracheaBreathing in through the nose warms and humidifies the air that is breathed in. Nose hairs help to trap any particles of dust. The warmed air enters the lungs through the windpipe, or trachea. The trachea is a hollow tube bolstered by rings of cartilage to prevent it from collapsing.
Back to topThe lungsThe lungs are inside the chest, protected by the ribcage and wrapped in a membrane called the pleura. The lungs look like giant sponges, since they are filled with thousands of tubes, branching smaller and smaller. The smallest components of all are the air sacs, called 'alveoli'. Each one has a fine mesh of capillaries. This is where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.
Back to topThe breathing musclesTo stay inflated, the lungs rely on a vacuum inside the chest. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle slung underneath the lungs. When we breathe, the diaphragm contracts and relaxes. This change in air pressure means that air is ‘sucked’ into the lungs on inhalation and ‘pushed’ out of the lungs on exhalation. The intercostal muscles between the ribs help to change the internal pressure by lifting and relaxing the ribcage in rhythm with the diaphragm.
Back to topThe exchange of gasThe blood containing carbon dioxide enters the capillaries lining the alveoli. The gas moves from the blood across a thin film of moisture and into the air sac. The carbon dioxide is then breathed out. On inhalation, oxygen is drawn down into the alveoli where it passes into the blood using the same film of moisture.