Structural & Functional Changes of the Respiratory System Due to Age

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 1:47 Respiratory Infections
  • 4:03 Effects of Infection
  • 5:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we explore the changes due to age in the respiratory system. Furthermore, we will look at infections and subsequent effects due to the infection of the respiratory system.

The Respiratory System

Can't breathe! California air and allergies are choking me! It's so bad here in the Central Valley that I've wanted to paint a picture of the mountains. The whole thing would just look like a blurry white and gray canvas. Even the land leading up to the mountains is caught in a perpetual haze.

The hazy and horrid air of my hometown has caused an upswing in respiratory system issues. The respiratory system is a group of specialized organs dedicated to the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. These include the:

  • Trachea
  • Bronchi
  • Bronchioles
  • Lungs
  • Diaphragm

The system is pretty simple. So simple, in fact, that there are Science Guy-style contraptions you can make out of two balloons and a 2-liter bottle of soda pop. Basically, the lungs are filled with little bubbles called alveoli that have blood vessels running really close to them. When the diaphragm contracts, it pulls the ribs apart and causes there to be a void. This void is filled with the air that rushes down the trachea, bronchi and bronchioles.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the respiratory system, let's look at how age affects it. The lungs and diaphragm are represented by a piece of rubber. This is because the system is elastic. As we age, the system does not flex or bend as well, resulting in less overall air incoming - sort of like how an old balloon doesn't stretch.

Furthermore, other things can go wrong as we age or get sick (or both). Then we will look and see how this affects people both physically and psychologically as their lungs, a fairly vital part of keeping the human body running, starts to give out due to age or illness.

Respiratory Infections

The infections and issues of the respiratory system have been divided into two main categories: upper and lower respiratory infections. Since that is the way the medical literature breaks it up, we shall too.

Upper respiratory infections are typically viral in nature, and the infection is typically centered on the nose or throat, with swelling, fever and extra mucus. These are your colds, flus and similar maladies. What has happened is the sick person has inhaled a mucus or water droplet that was expelled by another sick person. This droplet landed in the nose or upper area and is being taken care of by the immune system.

Most upper respiratory infections are typically benign, meaning that they do not lead to serious complications - not that it won't keep me from being whiny when I have the sniffles. They are also much more common than lower respiratory infections, especially in the cooler months due to school starting back up and people standing closer to each other in the warmer buildings.

Lower respiratory infections are either viral or bacterial. The infection is typically centered in the lungs, with swelling, fever and extra mucus. This is your pneumonia and bronchitis, which have simple symptoms of too much mucus and a cough that can't seem to get it all up. Similar to the upper respiratory infection, it is spread by aerosolized particles, but here, the infection is actually in the lungs themselves. These can have severe complications if left untreated and may actually be fatal.

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