Respiratory system physiology

With every inhale, air rushes through your windpipe to your lungs. After 20 to 30 branch points, oxygen diffuses into the liquid around the alveoli and slips into your blood. Carbon dioxide travels from the blood to the air and leaves the body when you exhale. Learn more about the respiratory system in these videos!

Did you know that your right lung is larger than your left? That’s because the majority of your heart is on the left side of your body, and your left lung is slightly smaller to accommodate it. The lungs take in oxygen and help you breathe out carbon dioxide. Humans have an intricate respiratory system, with hundreds of millions of tiny air sacs called alveoli, where all of the magic happens. These videos will introduce you to the lungs, and show how they help you survive.

If you think of your lungs as a mini factory, you can think of the gases as goods that your body trades. Humans need oxygen for important metabolic activities. For example, when you exercise, your breathe more because your body needs more oxygen! These metabolic activities produce carbon dioxide, which is something your body needs to get rid of to avoid blood acidity. So, keeping with the example of your lungs as a factory, oxygen is an import good, and carbon dioxide is an export good! Learn more about the specific mechanisms of this “goods exchange” in the tiny air sacs of the lungs: the alveoli.

Luckily, we can breathe without thinking which means that we have autonomic control of breathing. If we couldn’t, we would risk dying if we went to sleep (look up Ondine’s curse)! There are times when the body wants more oxygen (like during heavy exercise), and when the body wants less (like when we’re resting). How does our body automatically seem to know when to inhale more, and when to inhale less? Also, if we do have autonomic control of breathing, how is it possible to also have conscious control of our breathing? These questions get to the fundamentals of breathing control.