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StatPearls . Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.



The airway, or respiratory tract, describes the organs of the respiratory tract that allow airflow throughout ventilation. <1><2><3>They with from the nares and also buccal opening to the blind finish of the alveolar sacs. They are subdivided into different regions with assorted organs and also tissues come perform details functions. The airway deserve to be subdivided into the upper and lower airway, each of i m sorry has countless subdivisions together follows.

Upper Airway

The pharynx is the mucous membrane-lined part of the airway between the base of the skull and the esophagus and is subdivided as follows:

Nasopharynx, likewise known as the rhino-pharynx, post-nasal space, is the muscular tube from the nares, including the posterior sleep cavity, divide from the oropharynx by the palate and also lining the skull basic superiorly
The oro-pharynx connects the naso and also hypopharynx. That is the region between the palate and also the hyoid bone, anteriorly divided from the oral cavity through the tonsillar arch
The hypopharynx associate the oropharynx come the esophagus and the larynx, the region of pharynx below the hyoid bone.

The larynx is the part of the airway in between the pharynx and also the trachea, consists of the organs for the production of speech. Formed of a cartilaginous skeleton of nine cartilages, it includes the vital organs the the epiglottis and also the vocal folds (vocal cords) which space the opening to the glottis.

Lower Airway

The trachea is a ciliated pseudostratified columnar epithelium-lined tubular structure supported through C-shaped rings of hyaline cartilage. The level open surface of this C rings opposes the stomach to allow its expansion during swallowing. The trachea bifurcates and therefore terminates, remarkable to the love at the level of the sternal angle.

The bronchi, the key bifurcation that the trachea, are comparable in structure yet have finish circular cartilage rings.

Main bronchi: There room two providing ventilation to every lung. The right key bronchus has a bigger diameter and also is aligned more vertically than the left
Lobar bronchi: two on the left and three ~ above the ideal supply every of the key lobes of the lung
Segmental bronchi it is provided individual bronchopulmonary segments of the lungs.

Bronchioles absence supporting cartilage skeletons and also have a diameter of roughly 1 mm. Lock are originally ciliated and also graduate come the an easy columnar epithelium and their lining cells no much longer contain mucous producing cells.

Conducting bronchioles command airflow but do not contain any mucous glands or seromucous glands
Terminal bronchioles room the last division of the airway without respiratory surfaces
Respiratory bronchioles contain sometimes alveoli and also have surface surfactant-producing they each give rise to in between two and 11 alveolar ducts.

Alveolar is the final portion of the airway and is lined through a single-cell class of pneumocytes and in proximity come capillaries. Castle contain surfactant producing type II pneumocytes and Clara cells.

Alveolar ducts are tubular parts with respiratory tract surfaces native which the alveolar bag bud.
Alveolar sacs are the blind-ended spaces indigenous which the alveoli clusters are formed and also to whereby they connect. This are associated by pores which permit air press to equalize in between them. Together, through the capillaries, they kind the air-blood barrier.

Structure and also Function

Airways allow airflow in ventilation indigenous the external environment to the respiratory tract surfaces wherein gas exchange for respiratory tract processes can occur.<4><5>

To allow this and to keep homeostasis and adequate protection from the external setting they must likewise perform other barrier functions.

Moisture barrier is the mucous lining the the airway that gives a obstacle to avoid loss of too much moisture throughout ventilation by boosting the humidity the the waiting in the upper airway
Temperature barrier is relative to human body temperature as the external environment is practically always colder, and also the increased vasculature and also structures such together nasal turbinates heat air together it enters the airways
A obstacle to epidemic as the airways room lined through a well-off lymphatic system including mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) that avoids early accessibility to any type of invading pathogens. Macrophages also patrol the respiratory surfaces providing vital component that the “air-blood barrier."


The upper airways develop from the pharyngeal arches as component of the embryological advancement of the head and also neck structures.

At around four weeks, the larynx and lower airways develop from the longitudinal laryngotracheal groove which creates a medial, groove-like structure coming to be a tubular, blind-ended structure called the laryngotracheal diverticulum. This at some point separates native the arising foregut through the development of the tracheo-oesophageal folds.

The laryngeal cartilages and also musculature develop from the four and six pharyngeal arches, and also the glottic opening forms connecting this region to the trachea.

The trachea creates from the expansion of the laryngotracheal diverticulum, and it is lined v endodermal tissue which forms the specialized respiratory linings and mesodermal frameworks that form the cartilage and smooth muscle walls.

As development continues, the laryngotracheal diverticulum proceeds to branch and bud and forms the bronchi and branching bronchioles.

From 16 main onward, respiratory surfaces start to form, and also the mature of the lungs establishes with alveolar sacs forming and also pneumocyte advance forming the respiratory membrane.

The formation of the alveoli and also the respiratory membrane is not complete until after ~ birth, and alveolar formation continues until the period of eight.

Blood Supply and also Lymphatics

The top airways obtain blood supply from assorted branches of the outside carotid artery and also drain right into the internal jugular. The naso and also oropharynx also receive blood supply from the facial artery branch the the outside carotid via the tonsillar artery. The venous drainage the these structures is via the pharyngeal plexus right into the internal jugular vein. The lymphatic drainage is through assorted lymphatic plexuses that the neck surrounding the internal jugular vessels.

The lower airways get blood flow from 2 sources: the pulmonary circulation and also the bronchial circulation.

The pulmonary circulation provides blood from the heart for oxygenation v the right and left pulmonary arteries which follow a branching structure comparable to that of the airways themselves. This blood returns as oxygenated blood through the pulmonary veins which follow an separately branching structure to go back to the appropriate ventricle.

Bronchial circulation gives oxygenated blood come the airway frameworks themselves. These arteries arise independently from the systemic circulation. The 2 left bronchial arteries emerge from the thoracic aorta; whereas, the ideal bronchial artery arises one of two people from one of the remarkable posterior intercostal arteries or a usual trunk through the left exceptional bronchial artery. These administer nutrition and also oxygen to tissues as far as the finish of the conducting airways where they anastomose with the pulmonary circulation.

The bronchial veins are only current near the lung hilum which drainpipe blood indigenous the trachea, and bronchi drain into the azygos vein ~ above the right and either the accessory hemiazygos veins or the intercostal ship on the left. Pulmonary veins drain the more distal circulation where a small amount that deoxygenated blood makes a minimal impact on the saturation the the returning blood.

Lymphatic drainage of the reduced airways is v the deep lymphatic plexuses that the pulmonary lymphatic plexuses. These drainpipe to the superior and also inferior tracheobronchial lymph nodes bilaterally and also then to the right and also left ducts connecting come the venous angles, typically directly yet on the left, this may converge with the thoracic duct first.

Paratracheal nodes drainpipe lymph indigenous the trachea directly into the right and left lymphatic ducts.


Innervation that the pharynx is via cranial nerves VII, IX, X, and XII. The larynx is gave by the vagus (cranial nerve X) by the premium laryngeal branch directly and also the clinically necessary recurrent laryngeal branch.

The lower airways receive parasympathetic fibers from the vagus, several of which are afferent sensory nerves that transmit cough sensations from devoted J receptor in the mucosa and also stretch receptor from the bronchial muscles and inter-alveolar connective tissues. The efferent fibers of the vagus cause broncho-constriction and also secretion native the glandular organization in the airways. The efferent forgiveness fibers cause bronchodilation through inhibiting the task of the smooth muscles of the airways.


The muscles of the pharynx and larynx administer the structure of the upper airways and kind from striated muscles under visceral and somatic control. They relate to the activity of swallowing.

The reduced airways have a layer of smooth muscle within your walls. It is current along every one of the conducting prayer and allows for visceral manage of bronchoconstriction

Physiologic Variants

The most common anatomic sports is an abnormal tracheo-oesophageal fistula. This variation occurs most generally in males and often is associated with oesophageal atresia. That occurs with the incomplete fusion of the tracheo-oesophageal crease which would certainly divide the emerging foregut into respiratory and also oesophageal portions.

Surgical Considerations

The anatomy the the airway is crucial in all trauma and emergency operation scenarios. Together in any type of emergency assessment, a practitioner should recognize it is most important to consider and evaluate the patent airway.<6><7><4><8>

The upper airways deserve to be regulated using airway devices and also bypassed utilizing endotracheal intubation. If this is no possible, emergent surgical accessibility to the airway is imperative and also is performed through an emergency cricothyroidotomy.

Airway evaluate is pertinent to many usual surgeries:

Any neck trauma external to the airway can cause an external compression which deserve to compromise the airway. This compromise is of details importance in trauma and also operations on neighboring structures such as thyroidectomy.

Clinical Significance

The prestige of the top airway evaluate is big in both emergency and anesthetic scenarios.<9>

The upper airway assessment deserve to be carry out and enhanced by the following assessment tools:

The hyoid-mental distance, hyoid-thyroid cartilage street is measured, and also if these room shortened, it implies a complicated airway.

The cricoid cartilage is essential both as a clinical landmark and additionally as the only complete cartilage ring within the top airway used during cricoid press maneuvers.

The narrowest section of the upper airway is the cricoid cartilage in children; therefore, cricothyroidotomy is not recommended in children younger than the period of eight. As children grow and also mature, the glottic opening becomes the most narrow point in the airway, and therefore, the many likely point of obstruction and enables bypass by the insertion of a cricothyroidotomy airway.

The trachea is the most anterior framework of the neck other than for whereby the thyroid consist of it. This means that it have the right to be accessed to carry out an airway in both emergencies (cricothyroidotomy) and also elective steps (tracheotomy).

The trachea must align v the sternal notch. If this alignment deviates, it deserve to indicate a lung or mediastinal pathology.

The right, main bronchus is shorter, wider, and also vertically aligned, and this way it is the most typical site because that aspiration, both in a international body aspiration and during the incident of an aspiration pneumonitis leading to right lower lobe consolidation.

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In clinical assessment of the lower airways, v auscultation and by the existence of "wheezing" as turbulent airflow generates a musical noise, airway narrowing v edema or bronchoconstriction have the right to be detected.