Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Diagram of respiratory system

Diagram of respiratory system
beginning of content

Respiratory system

2-minute read

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:

  • nose
  • pharynx
  • larynx
  • trachea (windpipe)
  • bronchi (branching from the trachea, and leading to smaller bronchioles)
  • lungs

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.

Read more about how your respiratory system works.

Respiratory conditions

Respiratory conditions affect your airways and lungs.

They can be short term (acute) or long-lasting (chronic). Symptoms may include:

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

Last reviewed: December 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Respiratory system (pulmonary system) information | myVMC

The respiratory system includes the nose, lungs and pipe-like organs which connect them enable breathing and removal of waste products like carbon dioxide.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Emphysema

Emphysema is a condition where there is an over-inflation of structures in the lungs known as alveoli or air sacs.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Wheezing in children

A wheeze is a whistling sound that is made as a person breathes. It is mainly heard when the person is breathing out. In most cases wheezing is caused by the sound of air trying to move through the breathing tubes of the lungs when they become narrow or tight. The breathing tubes are often called the airways of the lungs.

Read more on WA Health website

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for children (over 12 months of age) | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

CPR for children over 12 months There are 7 steps to follow when helping a collapsed person

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Kids' Health - Topics - Lungs - your lungs

Why do we need air? Because we could not survive without the oxygen in the air that we breathe

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Inhalers | Lung Foundation Australia

Lung Foundation Australia explains how to use different types of inhalers.

Read more on Lung Foundation Australia website

Lung Problems After Cancer Treatment - Information - CanTeen

In some cases, radio and chemotherapy treatments can damage the lungs. Learn more about relief, treatment and support with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Pulmonary Function Test - Information & Support - CanTeen

A pulmonary function test measures how well your lungs work and is used to determine any side effects from chemo drugs. Learn more with CanTeen.

Read more on CanTeen website

Quitting Smoking | Lung Foundation Australia

Sometimes, the idea that you can’t quit, is what holds you back from quitting. Believe you can quit – and you’re already on your way.

Read more on Lung Foundation Australia website

Parenting and Child Health - Health Topics - Hiccups

Hiccups are caused by a sudden, unpredictable tightening of the diaphragm (the muscles at the bottom of the lungs that you use when breathing) -sucking air into the lungs

Read more on Women's and Children's Health Network website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo