# 10.2 Gas pressure, volume, and breathing

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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Describe the mechanisms that drive breathing
• Discuss how pressure and volume are related
• List the steps involved in breather
• Discuss the physical factors related to breathing
• Discuss factors that can influence the respiratory rate

Breathing can be described as the movement of air into (inspiration/inhalation) and out of the lungs (expiration/exhalation). The major mechanism that drive breathing is differences between atmospheric pressure and the air pressure within the lungs.

## Relationship between pressure and volume

Inspiration (or inhalation) and expiration (or exhalation) are dependent on the differences in pressure between the atmosphere and the lungs. In a gas, pressure is a force created by the movement of gas molecules that are confined. For example, a certain number of gas molecules in a two-liter container has more room than the same number of gas molecules in a one-liter container ( [link] ). In this case, the force exerted by the movement of the gas molecules against the walls of the two-liter container is lower than the force exerted by the gas molecules in the one-liter container. Therefore, the pressure is lower in the two-liter container and higher in the one-liter container. At a constant temperature, changing the volume occupied by the gas changes the pressure, as does changing the number of gas molecules. Boyle’s law    describes the relationship between volume and pressure in a gas at a constant temperature. Boyle discovered that the pressure of a gas is inversely proportional to its volume: If volume increases, pressure decreases. Likewise, if volume decreases, pressure increases. Pressure and volume are inversely related ( P = k/ V ). Therefore, the pressure in the one-liter container (one-half the volume of the two-liter container) would be twice the pressure in the two-liter container. Boyle’s law is expressed by the following formula:

${P}_{1}{V}_{1}={P}_{2}{V}_{2}$

In this formula, P 1 represents the initial pressure and V 1 represents the initial volume, whereas the final pressure and volume are represented by P 2 and V 2, respectively. If the two- and one-liter containers were connected by a tube and the volume of one of the containers were changed, then the gases would move from higher pressure (lower volume) to lower pressure (higher volume).

Atmospheric pressure is the amount of force that is exerted by gases in the air surrounding any given surface, such as the body. Atmospheric pressure can be expressed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which is similar to the phrase "inches of mercury" used to describe atmospheric pressure on weather reports. 760 mm Hg is the atmospheric pressure at sea level under highly specific parameters of latitude and temperature.

## How changes in volume and pressure are accomplished during breathing

In addition to the differences in pressures, breathing is also dependent upon the contraction and relaxation of muscle fibers of both the diaphragm and thorax. The lungs themselves are passive during breathing, meaning they are not involved in creating the movement that helps inspiration and expiration. Contraction and relaxation of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles (found between the ribs) cause most of the pressure changes that result in inspiration and expiration. These muscle movements and subsequent pressure changes cause air to either rush in or be forced out of the lungs.

During inspiration, the diaphragm and external intercostal muscles contract, causing the rib cage to expand and move outward, and expanding the thoracic cavity and lung volume. This creates a lower pressure within the lung than that of the atmosphere, causing air to be drawn into the lungs. During expiration, the diaphragm and intercostals relax, causing the thorax and lungs to recoil. The air pressure within the lungs increases to above the pressure of the atmosphere, causing air to be forced out of the lungs.

## Respiratory rate

Breathing usually occurs without thought, although at times you can consciously control it, such as when you swim under water, sing a song, or blow bubbles. The respiratory rate    is the total number of breaths, or respiratory cycles, that occur each minute. Respiratory rate can be an important indicator of disease, as the rate may increase or decrease during an illness or in a disease condition. The respiratory rate is controlled by the respiratory center located within the brain, which responds primarily to changes in carbon dioxide, oxygen, and pH levels in the blood.

The normal respiratory rate of a child decreases from birth to adolescence. A child under 1 year of age has a normal respiratory rate between 30 and 60 breaths per minute, but by the time a child is about 10 years old, the normal rate is closer to 18 to 30. By adolescence, the normal respiratory rate is similar to that of adults, 12 to 18 breaths per minute.

## Chapter review

The process of breathing is driven by pressure differences between the lungs and the atmosphere. Atmospheric pressure is the force exerted by gases present in the atmosphere. Pressure is determined by the volume of the space occupied by a gas. Air flows when a pressure gradient is created, from a space of higher pressure to a space of lower pressure. Boyle’s law describes the relationship between volume and pressure. A gas is at lower pressure in a larger volume because the gas molecules have more space to in which to move. The same quantity of gas in a smaller volume results in gas molecules crowding together, producing increased pressure.

Pulmonary ventilation consists of the process of inspiration (or inhalation), where air enters the lungs, and expiration (or exhalation), where air leaves the lungs. During inspiration, the diaphragm and external intercostal muscles contract, causing the rib cage to expand and move outward, and expanding the thoracic cavity and lung volume. This creates a lower pressure within the lung than that of the atmosphere, causing air to be drawn into the lungs. During expiration, the diaphragm and intercostals relax, causing the thorax and lungs to recoil. The air pressure within the lungs increases to above the pressure of the atmosphere, causing air to be forced out of the lungs.

Both respiratory rate and depth are controlled by the respiratory centers of the brain, which are stimulated by factors such as chemical and pH changes in the blood. A rise in carbon dioxide or a decline in oxygen levels in the blood stimulates an increase in respiratory rate and depth.

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