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Breathing Treatment

What is the airway?

Airway refers to the tube that allows air to pass in and out of the body. This tube starts at the voice box (larynx) and branches into many tiny little tubes in the lungs. Each tube ends as a tiny "bubble" called an alveolus, where air (oxygen) is transferred into the blood and carbon dioxide is released.

How do we breathe?
Through the airway, we move in air (inhale) from the environment to the lungs.
Inhaling involves the use of breathing (respiratory) muscles. This inhaled air is rich in oxygen (a gas that our body needs to function). Oxygen is then transferred from the lungs into the bloodstream and is exchanged with a "waste" gas (carbon dioxide) that we then breathe out (exhale). We can get more oxygen into our bodies by breathing faster (increase the respiratory rate) or by taking a larger breath by using the respiratory muscles. Although we can control the amount of air we breathe voluntarily, the amount of oxygen our body needs at any given time is also registered in the brain in the respiratory center. This is why we don't have to think about breathing, for example, while we sleep.

The brain, the heart, lungs, respiratory (breathing) muscles, and the airway must all work well together to keep the body breathing normally. A problem with any of these can cause breathing difficulties. The body also gives us clues to the location of the problem by causing a certain kind of sound.




What are some causes of difficulty breathing?

  1. The brain - if the respiratory center in the brain isn't working normally, even if everything else is working well, breathing difficulty can occur. Causes for this include trauma to the brain, increased pressure in the brain, some drugs (narcotics for example), and problems with chemical balances in the blood.
  2. The heart - if the heart has problems pumping blood to the lungs or throughout the body, the body will not get enough blood with oxygen and will cause difficulty breathing. Examples include "holes" in the heart, valve problems, or a heart that can't keep up with the amount of blood that needs to be pumped (congestive heart failure).
  3. The lungs - even though the blood can get to the lungs, and oxygen can get to the lungs, the lungs don't work well and can't transfer the oxygen. Examples include infection or fluid in the lungs (pneumonia), and diseases like cystic fibrosis.
  4. The respiratory muscles - if the muscles that are used to help breathe are weak or paralyzed (don't work at all), breathing difficulties can occur. Reasons for this can include some medications causing muscle paralysis, damage to the nerves that go to these muscles, and neurologic diseases like Guillian-Barre syndrome.

The airway - anything that blocks any part of the airway restricts air from getting to the lungs. Examples of this include infections, foreign bodies, and some birth (congenital) abnormalities of the airway.



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