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What are Bronchial Tubes?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The bronchial tubes are part of an internal structure known as the respiratory tree. This structure is part of the respiratory system, which allows humans to exchange the air in their lungs. People need to breathe in air that is rich in oxygen. The air they breathe out has poor levels of oxygen. These tubes connect the lungs to the trachea to facilitate this process.

The trachea, also known as the windpipe, allows air to flow into two hollow branches called the bronchi, or bronchial tubes. One tube is connected to the right lung. The other is connected to the left lung. These extend into many branches, known as bronchioles, which allow a large amount of air to be exchanged over the whole of each lung.

It may be easier to visualize the trachea as a huge root. That root extends down some distance and branches off into two large roots, which are the bronchial tubes. These two large roots veer off in different directions and become a network of small roots, or bronchioles, that cover a large area.

The bronchial tubes are located at about the center of a person’s chest. They connect to an upper portion of the lungs, known as the hilum. The bronchial tube that branches to the right is shorter than the one that goes to the left. This is due to the positioning of the heart, which is on the left side of the chest.

The inside of the bronchial tubes is lined with a mucous membrane. That membrane contains tiny structures that act as filters. If particles are breathed in with the air, these miniature filters catch them.

The bronchi are held open by semi-circle structures that run the length of them. These hold the passageway open, allowing the air to flow smoothly. When a person inhales, the bronchi extend in conjunction with the expansion of the lungs. When the person exhales the size of these parts is reduced to normal.

In some cases, inflammation or blockage cause an abnormal expansion of the bronchi. This condition is known as bronchiectasis. It can have an effect on parts of the body that are not directly related to the respiratory system.

In some other instances, the bronchial tubes become swollen or infected and cause a disorder known as bronchitis. This is common among smokers and people who are exposed to high levels of pollution. This condition is generally caused because the mucous filtering system becomes too dirty. It is usually characterized by a cough that produces a significant amount of phlegm.

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Discussion Comments

By anon1004529 — On Feb 28, 2021

When walking on a flat surface my breathing is all right but if I start walking up a hill my throat closes and I cannot breath. I have been to a lung doctor, a cardiologist, and an ENT and they cannot find what causes this problem.

By anon997931 — On Mar 18, 2017

My bronchial tubes keep swelling closed every time the doctor wants me to use a new inhaler, because my oxygen levels are low, even though they have been low my entire life and in the last 15 years I have only been sick twice and have never missed work for being sick. What do I need to tell him to check.? Because he laughs at me when I try to ask a question and might as well tell me I am stupid.

By wavy58 — On Apr 27, 2012

I have had a sore throat and stuffy head that progressed into a bronchial tube infection before, and it is nearly impossible to get rid of without strong antibiotics and steroids. I waited for several days before giving up and going to my doctor for treatment.

The cough had gotten so bad that I could not breathe without sputtering into a fit. I could feel rattling in my chest, and every time I inhaled or exhaled, I could hear wheezing. My stomach ached from all the muscle strain of the hard coughing, and I had developed a fever, too.

My doctor said the inflammation of my bronchial tubes was pretty bad. She gave me a steroid shot and a dose pack, along with ten days of antibiotics and some powerful cough syrup. Even with all those drugs, it took about four days for me to stop coughing.

By Perdido — On Apr 27, 2012

@orangey03 – The same thing happened to me while I was cleaning out an outdoor utility room. Layers of dust flew up into my face, and I started coughing right away.

The cough didn't stop once I got into cleaner air, though. It continued through the night, and it was just as persistent as regular bronchitis.

I knew I didn't need antibiotics, but I did take something to help me cough up the irritants. I took an expectorant cough syrup, and it helped me cough up the phlegm that had captured the dust.

It does seem a bit strange to take something that will make you cough even more when trying to treat your cough, but this is the best way to clear out your bronchial tubes. The faster you get that stuff out of your body, the sooner you will get better.

By orangey03 — On Apr 26, 2012

Has anyone here ever had inflamed bronchial tubes caused by something other than an infection or cold? I inhaled way too much dust while cleaning up an old house that had been uninhabited for decades a few days ago, and I have had a cough with symptoms resembling bronchitis.

I really believe that the dust got caught in my bronchial tubes as I breathed it in, and I don't think I actually have a sickness. I don't know whether I should go to a doctor or if I should take over-the-counter cough medicine, since it was caused by irritants instead of bacteria or a virus. Does anyone know how you treat inflamed bronchial tubes like this?

By kylee07drg — On Apr 25, 2012

I always knew that bronchial tubes traveled to the lungs, but I wasn't aware of bronchioles until reading this article. It is a good setup to have several small branches covering the lungs in different areas. That way, if something happens to one bronchiole, the others can take over for it.

I also didn't know that the bronchial tubes could expand like the lungs can. I guess I just pictured the air shooting straight into the lungs before causing any expansion of tissue. It seems the whole respiratory system is more flexible than I realized.

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