Trachea Takes Care of Your Breathing - Structure, Function, Diseases
Know your Body

Trachea : It Takes Care of Your Breathing

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 19 Feb 2014 - 09:43.
" Much as you try, you can't swallow and breathe at the same time! If this happens you may cease to breath. The flap in trachea prevents this. "

Also called the windpipe, the trachea is situated in front of the neck and is very hard with tough rings around it, each ring superimposed on the other. One can always feel it in front of the neck and in thin persons, the rings can be counted too.

Trachea structure: Trachea is a cylindrical tube connecting the nose and mouth to the lungs. Consisting of cartilage and membrane, it extends from the voice box (larynx) at the level of the sixth cervical vertebra to the fifth thoracic vertebra, where it divides into two bronchi.

It is about 5" long and one inch wide. The isthmus of the thyroid gland and other structures in the neck cover it. It is always in contact with the esophagus or the food pipe. It extends from the voice box (larynx) at the level of the 6th cervical vertebra and leads air to the lungs.

A thin layer of membrane called the mucous membrane covers the trachea which has cilia around it which help move sputum and any trapped foreign matter to the pharynx. After that they leave the passage and is normally swallowed or expectorated outside.

During cigarette smoking, it stops the movement of the friendly and useful cilia in the mucous membrane. It is estimated that one cigarette can stop ciliary’s movement for about 20 minutes! Tobacco smoke increases the quantity of mucous in the trachea. The ciliary’s movement having stopped, the person struggles to bring out the excess mucous. They cough continuously to expectorate the mucous outside.

Functions of the trachea: The trachea permits only air to pass through it. Food and drinks pass through another tube called esophagus, which is right behind the trachea. A special flap in the trachea, closes the trachea while eating or drinking, and the esophagus while breathing. This tiny flap prevents food from entering the trachea and thence to lungs. That is why you cannot swallow and breathe at the same time.

Occasionally the flap fails to cover the trachea fully and that is when slight amount of food particles enter into the lungs. That is when you have severe cough, which is a protective phenomenon to expel these trespassers.

Common diseases : affecting the trachea are inflammations, foreign bodies, suffocation due to breathing obnoxious gases, thick secretions called mucous which by itself may cause obstructive phenomenon, airway obstructions, respiratory diseases syndrome, upper respiratory tract infections, tracheo-bronchitis etc. Malignancy is rare, except when metastasis occurs from a primary focus in the larynx.

In acute obstructive disorder of the trachea whatever the reason, there is little time to investigate and an emergency tracheotomy operation is the only procedure to maintain respiration through an opening in the tracheotomy tube inserted in the trachea. This will maintain respiration and gives enough time for thorough investigations to detect the exact cause of airway obstruction. Doctors attending on such patients should always keep themselves ready with pre-sterilized instruments and various sizes of tracheotomy tubes for emergency tracheotomy when other methods of resuscitations fail.

Majority of emergencies resulting from problems with trachea are seen amongst children. Very few of them could be congenital like congenital subglotic stenosis which needs handling by expert pediatric laryngologist surgeons.

In very rare cases we come across acquired subglotic stenosis, which is commonly caused due to subglotic injuries while performing endotracheal intubations for some other problem.



*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.