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The simple squamous epithelium formed by type I alveolar cells is attached to a thin, elastic basement membrane. This epithelium is extremely thin and borders the endothelial membrane of capillaries. Taken together, the alveoli and capillary membranes form a respiratory membrane    that is approximately 0.5 mm thick. The respiratory membrane allows gases to cross by simple diffusion, allowing oxygen to be picked up by the blood for transport and CO 2 to be released into the air of the alveoli.

Diseases of the…

Respiratory system: asthma

Asthma is common condition that affects the lungs in both adults and children. Approximately 8.2 percent of adults (18.7 million) and 9.4 percent of children (7 million) in the United States suffer from asthma. In addition, asthma is the most frequent cause of hospitalization in children.

Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by inflammation and edema of the airway, and bronchospasms (that is, constriction of the bronchioles), which can inhibit air from entering the lungs. In addition, excessive mucus secretion can occur, which further contributes to airway occlusion ( [link] ). Cells of the immune system, such as eosinophils and mononuclear cells, may also be involved in infiltrating the walls of the bronchi and bronchioles.

Bronchospasms occur periodically and lead to an “asthma attack.” An attack may be triggered by environmental factors such as dust, pollen, pet hair, or dander, changes in the weather, mold, tobacco smoke, and respiratory infections, or by exercise and stress.

Normal and bronchial asthma tissues

The top panel of this figure shows normal lung tissue, and the bottom panel shows lung tissue inflamed by asthma.
(a) Normal lung tissue does not have the characteristics of lung tissue during (b) an asthma attack, which include thickened mucosa, increased mucus-producing goblet cells, and eosinophil infiltrates.

Symptoms of an asthma attack involve coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness of the chest. Symptoms of a severe asthma attack that requires immediate medical attention would include difficulty breathing that results in blue (cyanotic) lips or face, confusion, drowsiness, a rapid pulse, sweating, and severe anxiety. The severity of the condition, frequency of attacks, and identified triggers influence the type of medication that an individual may require. Longer-term treatments are used for those with more severe asthma. Short-term, fast-acting drugs that are used to treat an asthma attack are typically administered via an inhaler. For young children or individuals who have difficulty using an inhaler, asthma medications can be administered via a nebulizer.

In many cases, the underlying cause of the condition is unknown. However, recent research has demonstrated that certain viruses, such as human rhinovirus C (HRVC), and the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumoniae that are contracted in infancy or early childhood, may contribute to the development of many cases of asthma.

Visit this site to learn more about what happens during an asthma attack. What are the three changes that occur inside the airways during an asthma attack?

Chapter review

The respiratory system is responsible for obtaining oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide, and aiding in speech production and in sensing odors. From a functional perspective, the respiratory system can be divided into two major areas: the conducting zone and the respiratory zone. The conducting zone consists of all of the structures that provide passageways for air to travel into and out of the lungs: the nasal cavity, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, and most bronchioles. The nasal passages contain the conchae and meatuses that expand the surface area of the cavity, which helps to warm and humidify incoming air, while removing debris and pathogens. The pharynx is composed of three major sections: the nasopharynx, which is continuous with the nasal cavity; the oropharynx, which borders the nasopharynx and the oral cavity; and the laryngopharynx, which borders the oropharynx, trachea, and esophagus. The respiratory zone includes the structures of the lung that are directly involved in gas exchange: the terminal bronchioles and alveoli.

The lining of the conducting zone is composed mostly of pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium with goblet cells. The mucus traps pathogens and debris, whereas beating cilia move the mucus superiorly toward the throat, where it is swallowed. As the bronchioles become smaller and smaller, and nearer the alveoli, the epithelium thins and is simple squamous epithelium in the alveoli. The endothelium of the surrounding capillaries, together with the alveolar epithelium, forms the respiratory membrane. This is a blood-air barrier through which gas exchange occurs by simple diffusion.

Visit this site to learn more about what happens during an asthma attack. What are the three changes that occur inside the airways during an asthma attack?

Inflammation and the production of a thick mucus; constriction of the airway muscles, or bronchospasm; and an increased sensitivity to allergens.

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References

Bizzintino J, Lee WM, Laing IA, Vang F, Pappas T, Zhang G, Martin AC, Khoo SK, Cox DW, Geelhoed GC, et al. Association between human rhinovirus C and severity of acute asthma in children. Eur Respir J [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2013 Mar 22]; 37(5):1037–1042. Available from: (External Link)&gca=erj%3B37%2F5%2F1037&allch=

Kumar V, Ramzi S, Robbins SL. Robbins Basic Pathology. 7th ed. Philadelphia (PA): Elsevier Ltd; 2005.

Martin RJ, Kraft M, Chu HW, Berns, EA, Cassell GH. A link between chronic asthma and chronic infection. J Allergy Clin Immunol [Internet]. 2001 [cited 2013 Mar 22]; 107(4):595-601. Available from: (External Link)&gca=erj%3B37%2F5%2F1037&allch=

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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