Trachea Definition, Functions and Parts

Concerning trachea definition, it is an important anatomical structure that is an integral part of respiratory system in humans and other higher animals. Allowing the passage of air (respiratory gases) it connects larynx (voice box) and pharynx with lungs.

The trachea location can be traced in the chest region, and it is made of soft bony material, called cartilage that allows great amount of flexibility for the efficient performance of its essential tasks.

However, as the age progresses, it becomes rigid and hard, and is converted into bone. Apart from just gaseous exchange, it is also involved in the production of vocal sounds as one of the secondary trachea functions.

As with other organs of your body, trachea is also vulnerable to a number of diseases that are commonly known as respiratory disorders, viz. tracheal stenosis, tracheobronchomalacia, and so on.


Parts of Trachea

As you can see in the trachea pictures, the windpipe is structurally composed of incomplete rings, resembling the letter C in English which range from 15 to 20 in number. At the anterior end, the air passage is bound by a membranous structure, called larynx that contains vocal chords running horizontally across its mouth and forming voice apparatus in humans for the production of speech sounds.

At the posterior end, it undergoes dichotomous branching, thus dividing into the two smaller tubes, viz. primary bronchi. Each of the primary bronchi runs into either of the lungs (i.e. left or right one) and allows the smooth and efficient passage of air (or the exchange of respiratory gases).

Going deeper into lungs, further branching takes place in which bronchi are subdivided into bronchioles ultimately attaining the size of very small air sacs enclosed by respiratory membranes through which exchange of respiratory gases (carbon dioxide & oxygen) virtually takes place.

With the help of incomplete rings, the anterior of the tube (lumen) can be narrowed down to accelerate the air passing through it when needed, e.g. while coughing.

Functions of Trachea

Though primarily concerned with respiratory function, it also facilitates sound production and protection against the harmful substances or microbes that may get entry into deeper parts of the lungs and induce malfunctioning.

For protective purpose, the lumen of windpipe is lined with a layer of mucous that is a sticky material and traps the foreign substances which are then expelled upward and swallowed either into esophagus or excreted out of the body in the form of phlegm.

Breathing constitutes both inhalation and exhalation that need alternate rise or lowering of trachea. This very feature is owed to its great flexibility.

For the production of sound, the e - gressive or a - gressive airflow causes the vocal chords to vibrate which, however, also requires some deliberate effort on the part of the speaker.

The voice thus produced is further modified into various language sounds in the oral cavity involving uvula, palate, tongue, alveolar ridge, teeth and lips, etc.

Diseases of Trachea

Any ailment of the respiratory system may disturb the overall functioning of your body as it is responsible for the facilitation of the process of energy extraction from food. Forming front tubular part of the respiratory system, the anatomical structure, if attached by some acute or chronic disorder, results in the partial or complete collapse of airway system and often leads to the death of the individual.

It is surprising to know that this is the organ system of your body which is exposed and extremely vulnerable to environmental hazards, especially in this highly polluted atmosphere.

A number of tracheal ailments may arise out of various factors, like infectious and hereditary which include inflammation, tumor formation, cancerous outgrowth, obstructive disorders, etc. Tracheal stenosis is characterized by inflammation of the windpipe that may be relieved by endoscopy or surgical therapy.

Formation of large tumor (benign or cancerous) in the lumen of trachea may cause the blockage of the air passage and death of the victim due to chocking. Though it is very difficult to avoid contact with respiratory diseases, proper care, preventive measures and early treatment of the abnormalities can save you from life long miseries.

About the Author

Posted by: M. Isaac / Senior writer

A graduate in biological sciences and a PhD scholar (NCBA&E University, Lahore), M. Isaac combines his vast experience with a keen and critical eye to create practical and inherently engaging content on the human body. His background as a researcher and instructor at a secondary school enables him to best understand the needs of the beginner level learners and the amateur readers and educate them about how their body works, and how they can adopt a healthier lifestyle.

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