Basic information | Respiratory tract | Lower respiratory system | Self cleaning mechanism

Self cleaning mechanism

The bronchi are lined with a mucous membrane that contains cells which carry tiny hairs, or cilia; they move like a cornfield in the wind. The muciferous cells partly form thin aqueous mucous in which the cilia move. Viscous mucous is located on top of these cilia. Dirt particles, pathogens and the like remain stuck to the mucous and are transported out together with the mucous via the trachea through the regular movement of the cilia. Without even noticing it we swallow this mucous into our stomach where the mucous is then digested and the valuable components are put to further use.

It is only when this "self cleaning mechanism" no longer functions that coughing has to take over this task. The coughing mechanism helps to eliminate larger foreign bodies from the respiratory passages.

Coughing may occur in the case of an acute illness, e.g. an infection of the respiratory tract. In many cases a regular urge to cough over longer periods of time indicates that the normal cleaning mechanism no longer functions sufficiently. In such cases coughing is considered as a possible indication of an illness - and it should always be a reason to consult a physician IF IT IS PROLONGED. Everybody who is suffering from coughing longer than 6 weeks is recommended to consult a physician.

As already mentioned rough particles are removed from the air in the upper respiratory passages. Small particles can reach the trachea and its branches, perhaps even as far as the alveoli. It is important to take account of this cleaning mechanism and to circumvent it if we want to introduce medicines into the respiratory system.

The actual exchange of gases takes place in the alveoli. The lung has an inconceivably large number of alveoli so that this exchange of gas can be carried out as quickly as possible. One can imagine these alveoli being like a small balloon contained in a string bag. And like a string bag the blood vessels surround the balloon in order to convey as much blood to the air as possible.

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