Your respiratory system brings oxygen into your body and helps to remove carbon dioxide. Problems with your respiratory system can reduce the oxygen that reaches your lungs, which can make you unwell.
Parts of the respiratory system
Your respiratory system consists of the:
- trachea (windpipe)
- bronchi (branching from the trachea, and leading to smaller bronchioles)
Your lungs are in your chest, protected by your ribcage. You breathe in by contracting your diaphragm, a flat muscle at the base of your chest. This causes the chest to expand, drawing air in.
Air passes into your nose and through the upper airways to reach your lungs.
In your lungs, air sits in small air sacs called alveoli, which are right next to blood vessels. Oxygen travels from your alveoli into your bloodstream, and carbon dioxide travels the other way from your bloodstream into your alveoli. You then breathe it out.
Respiratory conditions affect your airways and lungs.
They can be short term (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). Symptoms may include:
- breathlessness or wheezing
- persistent, new or changed cough
- chest pain
- coughing up blood, mucus or phlegm
Serious respiratory conditions can cause long-term illness or death.
Tips for a healthy respiratory system
To keep your respiratory system (and especially your lungs) healthy:
- don't smoke
- avoid harmful environmental factors such as smoke, dusts and chemicals
- exercise (check with your doctor first if you have a health condition), preferably away from busy roads with high air pollution
- wash your hands regularly to prevent infections
- eat a healthy, vitamin-rich diet
- drink plenty of water
- introduce plants into your living spaces
- practise good hygiene
- consider having the flu vaccine each year and other vaccines if indicated (such as those for whooping cough or pneumonia). Discuss this with your doctor
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Last reviewed: January 2020