What Cavity Is The Lungs In
The chest cavity is the area surrounding the heart and lungs. It’s not just an empty space — it contains important organs like the thymus gland, lymph nodes, tonsils, trachea, esophagus, parts of the windpipe (tracheobronchial tree), and the left and right bronchi. The lungs are housed in the chest cavity, along with the trachea, which carries air to the lungs from the nose and mouth. The lungs aren’t actually inside your chest, but they’re close enough to be considered part of the chest cavity.
There are three layers of tissue covering the inner surface of the chest wall. The outer layer is called the visceral peritoneal membrane; this thin layer separates the chest cavity from your abdomen. Next comes the parietal pleura, followed by the serous membranes. The pleural membranes include two different kinds of membranes: one on each side of the chest cavity. One covers the lung while the other lines the rib cage. These two layers create a barrier between the outside world and the internal organs within your chest. This barrier keeps all those vital organs healthy and safe.
This barrier also plays a crucial role in how we breathe. When you inhale, oxygen-rich air enters through the nose and passes into the lungs where it combines with carbon dioxide and becomes blood. As the process continues, most of the gas dissolves into the fluid within the lungs, known as pulmonary plasma. Once dissolved, it can leave the body via the oropharynx and enter the air sacs of the lungs. There, the oxygenated blood picks up more carbon dioxide before returning to our bloodstream. Because the lining of the chest cavity has no blood vessels or passageways, gases cannot simply dissolve directly into the blood stream. Instead, when the lungs absorb carbon dioxide, they push the gaseous waste out of their cells into the air sacs. From there, the carbon dioxide leaves the body through the mouth.
Although the lungs help keep our bodies breathing, they don’t have any purpose aside from respiration. However, without them, life wouldn’t exist. Without proper ventilation, our bodies would suffocate due to the buildup of carbon dioxide.
We could thank the lungs for another way as well. If the lungs didn’t perform this function, humans would die much faster than animals do. A human breathes about 20 times faster than an average animal does. Humans use about 15 percent less energy than animals during normal activities. And if a person were to go without food for 48 hours, he’d only last four days longer than an animal who went without food for the same amount of time. So next time you’re tempted to chug down a soda instead of taking a walk at lunchtime, remember what the lungs did for us.
So now you know why the lungs are so critical, but what exactly goes on within these delicate tissues? Find out next.
How Lung Function Works
Respiratory Diseases Affecting the Lungs
The lungs have several functions, including providing oxygen to the blood, eliminating wastes, and maintaining acid/base balance.
Each lung consists of millions of tiny alveoli, or little pockets filled with air. Alveolar walls form capillaries, and small veins lead away from the alveoli. Within the alveolus, red blood cells float freely. Surrounding the alveolus are type II pneumocytes, which produce surfactant. Surfactants prevent the alveolus from collapsing when you exhale after breathing. Type I pneumocytes line the interior of the alveolus and secrete proteins that strengthen the lungs’ elastic capacity. Finally, type IIA epithelial cells provide mucus for airway protection and lubrication.
The lungs also play a major role in regulating body temperature and controlling water balance. They release hormones that affect metabolism, such as catecholamines and cortisol.
Finally, the lungs contain thousands of tiny hairs called cilia that coat the entire respiratory tract. Cilia beat back against harmful particles that may get past the upper and lower airways. This movement helps clear debris and bacteria from the lungs.
Now you understand how essential the lungs are for life, let’s look at how the lungs work together to breathe.
When people talk about “breathing,” they usually refer to the process of inhaling and exhaling. But how does the body take in air? How does it distribute the oxygen throughout the body? And how does the body eliminate carbon dioxide? Read on to find out.
You might think that breathing requires more effort than anything else you do, but many animals do it without even thinking about it. For example, birds have been shown to hold their breath for an astounding six minutes. Their lungs fill with nitrogen, which gives them an opportunity to hold their breath until someone grabs them and forces open their mouths. Even fish can hold their breath for long periods of time. During a 30-minute dive, some species can stay under for nearly five minutes. Some scientists believe that holding one’s breath for long periods isn’t unnatural since doing so doesn’t require oxygen consumption.
How Lung Function Works
In order to breathe properly, the lungs must maintain adequate levels of pressure, otherwise the chest will collapse inwardly. That means each breath should increase the volume of air held within the lungs. To accomplish this, the lungs expand. Expansion occurs because of changes in pressure caused by inhalation and exhalation.
During exhalation, the muscles that surround the lungs contract, forming a bellows-like action. The contracting muscle fibers pull the air containing oxygen deeper into the lungs. Oxygen moves from the atmosphere into the lungs and then into the blood. Carbon dioxide collects at the bottom of the lungs and is pushed toward the top of the lungs. Then, as air fills the lungs, pressure increases. The increased pressure pushes the carbon dioxide deep into the lungs and then the rest of the body.
As the lungs fill with air, the diaphragms flatten and become thinner. Diaphragmatic motion depends upon the position of the diaphragm. Normally, the lungs rise above the diaphragm when you inhale, and fall below it when you exhale.
To ensure that the lungs remain inflated, the diaphragm contracts during inspiration and relaxes during expiration. The abdominal muscles assist the diaphragm by tightening during exhalation and relaxing during inhalation. The intercostal muscles connect neighboring pairs of ribs. By moving in coordination with the diaphragm, the intercostals keep the chest cavity expanded. Also, the chest and neck move in opposite directions during breathing, pulling the head forward and pushing the shoulders backward.
Breathing produces heat because of the chemical reactions that occur during respiration. Heat builds up in the lungs and in the blood, causing your skin to warm. To regulate body temperature, sweat glands pump perspiration onto the skin. Sweat diffuses excess body heat and lowers core temperature.
Next, read about diseases that cause difficulty breathing.
One of the main roles of the lungs is to supply the body with oxygen. But the lungs are also responsible for getting rid of carbon dioxide produced by the body. What happens if the lungs fail to remove carbon dioxide? Check out next page to learn about respiratory diseases.
Respiratory Diseases Affecting the Lungs
Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and pain in the chest often signal respiratory problems. Common respiratory disorders include asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, COPD and cystic fibrosis.
Asthma affects approximately 300 million people worldwide. Although it causes coughing and wheezing, asthma does not result in marked restriction of airflow. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by chronic lung inflammation. Patients develop progressive symptoms such as persistent cough, sputum production, and wheezing. Shortness of breath is also common among patients with COPD. Emphysema refers to destruction of the cartilage that supports the lung tissue. Cartilage breakdown releases proteases that break down collagen and elastin fibers. Elastin provides the structure needed for normal expansion of the lungs. Proteolytic enzymes destroy elastin fibers, resulting in loss of structural support for the lungs. Pneumonia develops from infection of the air passages. Bacterial infections cause 80 percent of community-acquired pneumonia cases. Viral and fungal infections account for 10 percent. Tuberculosis spreads through the airways and infects the lungs. Other infectious agents, such as influenza virus, spread through contact with infected droplets expelled from the lungs. Pulmonary edema results from leakage of protein and water from capillary beds into surrounding tissue spaces. Edema can occur anywhere in the body, including the brain, kidneys, and legs. Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder affecting mostly young adults, destroys the pancreas, liver, and lungs. The condition creates excessive quantities of thick, sticky mucus that coats the lungs and prevents them from expanding fully.
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