Respiratory System and Its Health

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Anatomy and physiology of respiratory system

Respiratory system is set of organs which are responsible in taking in oxygen in our body and expelling oxygen out of our body. The primary organ of this system is the lungs which carry the oxygen we breathe. Lungs provide our body tissues and organs with continuous flow of oxygen and removal of gaseous waste( carbon dioxide) from our body.

Brief understanding of anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system.

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  1. Nose. This is the external opening of the system through which air moves in. in the nose air is moist and warmed before it enters to the system. Hair and mucus lining in the nose help to trap dusts, mold, pollen and other environmental contaminants before they can reach the inner portion of the body.
  2. Mouth. This is the secondary external opening for the respiratory tract. Although it doesn’t warm and moisture air entering the lungs, one advantage of breathing through the mouth is that it is a shorter distance and has a large diameter that allows more air to enter the body.
  3. Pharynx. It is also known as throat. Its function is to allow movement of air from the nose and mouth to the larynx during the breathing process.
  4. Larynx. It is also called the voice box. Larynx is located in the interior position of the neck and superior to the trachea. Its function is to allow air to pass through while keeping food and drinks from blocking the airways.
  5. Trachea. It is also known as windpipe. It provides a clear airway for air to enter and exit the lungs. It also produces mucus that traps dust and other contaminants and prevents them from reaching the lungs.
  6. Bronchi and bronchioles. Their main function is to carry air from the trachea into the lungs. They also warm, moisten, clean the inhaled air and distribute it in the lungs for gaseous exchange.
  7. Lungs. Lungs are found in the thorax lateral to the heart and above the diaphragm. The main function is to take oxygen from the environment and transfer it into the bloodstream.
  8. Alveoli. The long journey of oxygen from the environment ends here. This is the site where gaseous exchange takes place. Alveoli are rich in blood capillaries. Oxygen passes across the membrane into the bloodstream as carbon dioxide crosses back into the alveoli then into the lungs where it is expelled during exhalation.

Process of Gaseous Exchange

Breathing starts at the nose and mouth. As we breathe in through the mouth and nose, air moves in through the trachea into the lungs. The inhaled air, rich in oxygen, gets into the nose where oxygen passes through the walls of the lungs and is absorbed into the bloodstream.

After absorption, blood leaves the lungs and flows in the heart where it is pumped in the whole body to provide oxygen to the cells in the tissues and organs.
Carbon dioxide is produced and absorbed back into the blood. Blood carries carbon dioxide from the cells back to the lungs where it is removed from the body when we breathe out.

Tips to Maintain a Healthy Respiratory System

  1. Avoid smoking. Cigarette smoking or use of tobacco products cause serious respiratory system diseases such as cancer. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke by keeping distance from smokers. This is the simplest way to prevent many respiratory diseases.
  2. Eat well and exercise regularly. Exercising your body regularly makes your lungs stronger and better at giving your body enough oxygen needed by the body.
    Eating a balanced diet is one way of maintaining a healthy body. Certain lung diseases are linked to deficiency of certain nutrients in our body.
  3. Avoid exposure to pollutants. Exposure to second hand smoke and chemicals at home and workplaces can cause or worsen lung diseases.
  4. Plant trees and other leafy vegetable around our homesteads and residing areas. This increases oxygen supply and air quality in our homesteads. Trees also remove certain toxicants from the air.
  5. Drink enough water. Keeping your body hydrated plays a role in your lung’s health. It also cleans accumulated mucus on our lungs lining and therefore makes breathing easy.
  6. Maintaining hygiene. Avoid mixing with others when you are sick. This leads to spreading of the illnesses to other people and can also worsen your condition. Wash your hands regularly to prevent infections.

Foods That Nourishes Our Respiratory System

  • Water. Drinking pure, fresh and clean water helps in keeping blood flow to and from the lungs. It also keeps our lungs hydrated and improves mucus flow.
  • Garlic and onion. They maintain healthy lungs by reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and also fighting infections affecting the respiratory system.
  • Ginger. It is a spice added during food preparation. It eliminates pollutants from our lungs
  • Chilli pepper. They contain a compound which improves blood flow and fights infections affecting our respiratory system.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. These include cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli and kales. These vegetables have shown to stop the progress of lung cancer and reduce its progress by half. They are also rich in chlorophyll that helps in cleaning the blood and removal of some oxidants in the blood.
  • Apples. They contain flavonoids and vitamins which improves functioning of the lungs.
  • Grape fruits. They contain nutrients capable of removing toxicants from the body. They are also good at cleansing the lungs after quitting smoking.
  • Beans seeds and nuts. They contain high amounts of nutrients which contribute to healthy functioning of lungs.
  • Oranges. They contain vitamins which help the lungs to transfer oxygen
  • Carrots. They contain nutrients and vitamins which lower chances of developing lung diseases
  • Poultry meat. They boost lung health due to high levels of vitamins.

Foods Which Don’t Nourish Our Respiratory System

  • Fried foods. Excess eating of fried foods can cause weight gain which increases pressure on the lungs. They also contain unhealthy fats that raise bad cholesterol levels and increases risks for heart diseases. Some fried foods also cause bloating discomfort by pushing on the diaphragm making it difficult and uncomfortable to breathe.
  • Excessive salt. Excessive salt in our diets makes our body retain water and this excess water can cause breathing problems.
  • Dairy products. Dairy products contain essential nutrients for our body but these products can worsen symptoms for people with lung diseases. Mil contains a protein fragment (casomorphin) which increases mucus in the lungs.
  • Carbonated drinks. Most carbonated drinks are filled with sugar, empty calories and lots of carbonations which contribute to weight gain and increased bloating. This puts more pressure on the lungs making breathing difficult.
  • Cruciferous vegetables. They cause gas and bloating which can make breathing difficulties for people with lung disease. Although they are filled with nutrients and fibre, consuming them should be limited.

Respiratory Diseases and Symptoms

1. Asthma

It’s a common respiratory condition that results from inflammation of the air ways and causes difficulty in breathing. The airways become narrow and swell producing extra mucus. This makes breathing difficult, causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.


  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Chest pain
  3. Coughing and wheezing
  4. Breathing with a whizzing sound


Asthma is linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Exposure to contaminants that cause allergic reactions can trigger asthma.
The following can cause asthma.

  1. Airborne substances such as pollen, dust, and mold spore or particles of cockroach waste.
  2. Respiratory infections such as common cold
  3. Air pollutants and irritants such as smoke
  4. Certain medications e.g aspirin and ibuprofen
  5. Emotions and stress
  6. Some preservatives added in foods and beverages
  7. Gastro-esophageal reflex disease


  1. Follow doctors treatment plan-taking medication as prescribed and following your doctors treatment plan will help in managing asthma
  2. Carefully observe and avoid contacts that aggravate your asthma such as pollen, house dust, pillows and pets.
  3. Immunization with influenza and pneumonia vaccine-this diseases trigger asthma
  4. Monitoring your breathing
  5. Limited physical exercise for tolerant individuals
  6. Avoid extreme cold and humid zones
  7. Breathing exercises used in yoga are helpful in some people with asthma –they control breathing and also relieve stress which actually triggers asthma.


  1. Avoid foods that trigger allergies
  2. Eat nutritious foods to help boost your immunity against viral and bacterial infections.
  3. Manage your weight

2. Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an ailment associated with inflammation of the mucus membrane in the bronchial tubes (airways)which connects trachea to the can be severe(chronic bronchitis)and requires medical attention because it is included in the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(OPD)


Bronchitis is caused by a virus: typically the same virus that causes colds and flu. Cigarette smoking is also a common cause of chronic bronchitis. Air pollution, dust and exposure to toxic gases in the environment and workplaces contribute to bronchitis.


  1. Coughing
  2. Production of sputum which can be clear white or yellowish grey and may contain blood.
  3. Fatigue
  4. Shortness of breath
  5. Chest discomfort
  6. Mild headaches and body aches


  1. Vaccination-bronchitis results from influenza virus and getting vaccinated with influenza vaccine can protect one from getting the disease
  2. Washing hands-this reduces the risk of getting a viral infection. Use of alcohol sanitizers especially in heath institutions and other setups could help reduce risk of infection.
  3. Personal protective equipment-in companies and work places where staff are exposed to materials which can damage the lungs, workers are advised to cover their mouths with masks to prevent inhalation of such contaminants.
  4. Lifestyle change-changing your lifestyle in the following aspects can help ease the symptoms of bronchitis:
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Doing regular physical exercise
  • Avoid smoking and exposure to second hand smoke
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Taking lots of fluids to prevent dehydration and thinning of the mucus in the lungs.
  • Improve breathing techniques through pulmonary rehabilitation.


There is no treatment for bronchitis since it’s a viral disease. The prescribed medication helps at managing the symptoms. These include:

  • Antibiotics – they serve as anti-inflammatory thus help in opening the airways
  • Oxygen therapy is used to ease difficulties in breathing
  • Taking honey helps to relieve coughing

3. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection that results from inflammation of the air sacs(alveoli)in one or both can be caused by bacteria, virus or fungi. The inflamed alveoli are filled with fluid or pus making breathing difficult. Both viral and bacterial pneumonia can be spread to other people through coughing or sneezing. Pneumonia can also be contracted from the environment.


  1. Coughing
  2. Passing of sputum
  3. Fever
  4. Shaking/chills
  5. Chest pains that worsen when taking deep breaths
  6. Increased heartbeat
  7. Fatigue and weakness
  8. Muscle pain
  9. Shortness of breath


  1. Get enough rest-it’s advisable to stay in bed for a while and avoid overdoing daily activities until you recover fully
  2. Avoid smoking and exposure to second hand smoke-things helps the lungs to heal.
  3. Drink warm beverages and take warm baths-it opens the airways and eases breathing.
  4. Avoid taking over the counter coughing medicine without doctor’s prescription.
  5. Get vaccinated – the first line of defense against pneumonia is to get vaccinated. Pneumococcal vaccines are given to children at the age of 6 weeks,10 weeks and 14 weeks.
  6. Maintain hygiene-cover your coughs and sneezes and dispose them. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water.
  7. Maintain a healthy lifestyle-this can be achieved through eating a balanced diet and regular exercise to keep the lungs healthy and strengthen the immune system.

4. Lung Cancer

Lung cancer disease is characterized by uncontrolled growth of cells in the lungs. This causes certain mutations in the healthy cells. The overgrowth of cells leads to development of tumors within the affected lungs.


Most of lung cancer is caused by tobacco smoking or exposure to second hand smoke. Other risk factors have been linked to increase in lung cancer cases such as exposure to radon gas, asbestos and other cancer causing elements (carcinogens)


  • Shortened of breath
  • Persistent coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change of personal voice
  • Unexplainable headaches


  1. Avoid smoking and exposure to kinds of smokes. This is because smoking is the major cause of lung cancer.
  2. Cancer screening. Regular cancer screening can lead to early detection of cancer at early stages. This makes it possible to treat and manage the cancer at early stages.
  3. Use of personal protective equipment. Prevent yourself against exposure to radiant and other chemicals and gases in workplaces because inhaling these elements can affect your lungs which with time can develop to cancer.
  4. Eat a balanced diet. A low fat diet and high fibre diet can reduce the risk of lung cancer as well as other types of cancers. Include fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. Avoid processed and preserved foods because the added food preservatives have been linked to cancers.
  5. Exercise your body. Regular body exercises can lower the risk of developing lung cancer and other types of cancers. This also improves the health of your lungs and also keeps maintaining body weight.


  1. Radiotherapy can be used to control the symptoms such as pain and coughing blood and also slows down the spread of cancer when cure is impossible.
  2. Chemotherapy. This uses powerful cancer killing medicine to treat cancer.
  3. Immunotherapy. This uses drugs which stimulates the immune system to target and kill cancer cells.

5. Tuberculosis

This is a serious infection of the lungs mainly caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis).it is a communicable disease which spreads through tiny droplets released into the air during coughing or sneezing.


  • A cough that persists for more than 3 weeks
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling tired all times
  • Passing of bloody sputum
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of appetite


  1. Vaccination. Ensure you are vaccinated or your kid is vaccinated with BCG vaccine after birth. This gives immunity to you kid against tuberculosis
  2. Personal hygiene. Infected patients should maintain high levels of hygiene to ensure they don’t spread the infection to other healthy individuals by covering their mouth when coughing, proper disposal of sputum. Health workers should ensure they protect themselves by wearing surgical masks when handling Tb patients and also when handling samples taken from these patients. Everyone should ensure their rooms are well ventilated to ensure air circulation including in matatus and other congested areas like work places.
  3. Changing our lifestyles. Avoiding smoking and exposure to second hand smokes. Exercising regularly helps in keeping our lungs healthy and also maintaining a healthy body weight.
  4. Adhering to medications as prescribed by doctors. Avoid defaulting to medication to ensure full recovery of the infection has been achieve. Ensure you take medicine in time as instructed by the doctor.

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