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What Is the Importance of the Respiratory System?

By Jennifer Long
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The respiratory system is vital to the whole functioning of the body. This system is essential in bringing in the oxygen required by every aspect of the body, from oxygen the cells need to function and replace cells that have died to the oxygen the muscles need. It also removes harmful gases such as carbon dioxide from the body.

The lungs, its sub-parts, and the throat are central components of the respiratory system, as are the windpipe, voice box, and nose. Air is pulled in by the lungs through the nose and mouth. It travels down the throat and windpipe into the lungs. From the lungs, oxygen is delivered to the air sacs, called alveoli, and then sent into the blood.

Although the intake of oxygen is a large aspect of the importance of the respiratory system, releasing carbon dioxide occurs as a byproduct of the respiration process. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are combined while the body is making energy. The carbon dioxide that is in the cells is exchanged for oxygen in a process called gas exchange. Once it is pulled from the cells, the carbon dioxide is expelled from the body through exhaling.

The importance of the respiratory system is further understood by the role the system plays in the function of other systems in the body, such as the circulatory system. After oxygen enters the blood, it travels through the body and is picked up by red blood cells. The oxygen is carried by the red blood cells to the heart. From the heart, the oxygen-enriched red blood cells are pumped into tissues and arteries throughout the whole body.

Any function of the brain is influenced by the respiratory system. The importance of the respiratory system is also indicated in its role in cellular activity and neuron function. Cells cannot perform basic functions or replicate without oxygen. Neurons cannot survive to relay electrochemical signals without an oxygen-rich environment. In fact, a lack of oxygen can actually kill the cells that are essential to brain activity.

Several factors affect the function of the respiratory system. Although the importance of the respiratory system influences other systems, respiratory problems can occur. Breathing issues such as asthma and bronchitis can reduce the amount of oxygen brought in and carbon dioxide removed. Restrictions to adequate gas exchange can lead to a dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide in the body.

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Discussion Comments
By Fristepha — On Jan 22, 2014

Any teacher will admit—kids are germy! I am an elementary school teacher and I’ve only been teaching a couple years. Like clockwork, I always catch whatever is going around the school every year. This year I’m determined not to catch anything. However, I always wash my hands and make sure to cover my mouth when sneezing or coughing, but sometimes that’s just not enough. I was wondering if there are some preventative vitamins or remedies for making sure to stave off any respiratory viruses this year? Also, I realize that there are a ton of different strains of infections, but does anyone know why kids always seem to get their own unique kind that really just knocks me on my butt? I feel like other teachers can sympathize.

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