Navigating Respiratory System Medical Terminology

Lungs, anatomy hand drawn illustration

In healthcare, a solid grasp of medical terminology is vital for effective communication. This is particularly true when discussing specific body systems, such as the respiratory system. This article will guide you through essential medical terms related to the respiratory system and enhance your medical vocabulary for use as an EMT, Paramedic, and other healthcare provider.

Key Respiratory System Medical Terminology 

The following terms are from repiratory system anatomy and physiology and listed first in order from the outside world into the lungs. 

Airway Terms

  1. Nares: The two openings into the nasal cavity. 
  2. Nasal Cavity: The open area behind the nose that allows air to be filtered and warmed before moving into the airways. 
  3. Oral cavity: The open space of the mouth where air is brought into and out of the airway. 
  4. Nasopharynx: The upper most (superior) portion of the throat that connects to the nasal cavity. 
  5. Oropharynx: The area of the throat directly behind the oral cavity. 
  6. Hypopharynx: The section of the throat below the oral and nasal cavities. 
  7. Pharynx: The throat, it’s a passage for both air and food
  8. Epiglottis: A flap of tissue that prevents food from entering the windpipe and the lungs.
  9. Larynx: Often called the voice box, it’s where the vocal cords are located.
  10. Cricothyroid Cartilige: Cartilige surrounding the laryng. Often called the “Adam’s Apple”, is present in both male and female patients. 
  11. Trachea: Often referred to as the windpipe, it’s the main airway to the lungs.
  12. Carina: The point dividing the trachea into left and right main bronchi. 
  13. Bronchi: The main passageways directly attached to the lungs that allow air to flow from the trachea into the lungs.
  14. Bronchioles: Smaller branches of the bronchi that carry air in the lungs.
  15. Alveoli: Tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.
  16. Pulmonary Capillaries: Small blood vessels surrounding the alveoli that come from and return to the heart, allowing oxygen to enter the blood, and CO2 waste to leave the blood. At this point the respiratory system intersects the cardiovascular system. 

Other Respiratory Structures and Functions

  1. Diaphragm: A sheet of muscle that helps in the process of inhalation.
  2. Visceral Pleura: The membrane lining the lungs. 
  3. Parietal Plura: The membrane lining the inside of the rib cage. 
  4. Intercostal Muscles: inter= between costal=ribs. These muscles bring the ribs closer together making the chest larger and allowing air to enter the lungs during inhilation. 
  5. Phrenic Nerve: The primary nerves of inhilation that allow the dipghragm to move down as it squeezes and intercostal muscles to contract opening up the chest for inhilation.. The nerve branches off of the C-spine above C3. 
  6. Inhalation: The active process using muscles to create a larger space in the chest and allows air to be drawn into the lungs.
  7. Exhalation: The passive, relaxing process of shrinking the chest by relaxing muscles and forcing air out of the lungs.
  8. Tidal Volume: The volume of air moved in and out of the lungs in one normal breath.

Respiratory Disorders and Conditions

Understanding specific conditions and disorders related to the respiratory system is another crucial aspect of medical terminology.

  1. Asthma: A chronic condition causing swelling and narrowing of the airways.
  2. Bronchitis: Inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes.
  3. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease): A chronic inflammatory lung disease causing obstructed airflow from the lungs.
  4. Emphysema: A type of COPD involving damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs.
  5. Hemothorax: Hemo= blood thorax= chest, the accumulation of blood in the lungs similar to a pneumothorax. 
  6. Pneumonia: Infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs, which may fill with fluid.
  7. Pneumothorax: Pneumo=air thorax=chest, is an emergent condition allowing air to enter into the space around the lung and collapsing the lung. 
  8. RSV: Respiratoru Ayncytial Virus is a viral infection of the airway common in children. 
  9. Tuberculosis: A potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs.

Medical Procedures and Treatments

Several procedures and treatments are specific to the respiratory system:

  1. Bronchoscopy: A procedure that allows your doctor to look at your airway through a thin viewing instrument called a bronchoscope.
  2. Endotracheal Intubation: Endo=within Tracheal= the trachea intubation is the insertion of an advanced airway into the trachea to create an airway and prevent vomit and other items from entering the lungs. 
  3. End-Tidal Capnography: Capno= carbon dioxide graphy= measurement in graph or wave form. An assessment used to measure CO2 waste concentration at the end of exhalation.
  4. Oropharyngeal Airway (OPA): A device inserted into the mouth that holds the tongue up and off the oropharynx and opens the airway. 
  5. Nasopharyngeal Airway (NPA): A device inserted into the nares to provide an airway.
  6. Plural Decompression (Dart): An advanced procedure inserting a needle between the ribs to allow a collapsed lung to relieve pressure during a pneumothorax. 
  7. Pulmonary Function Tests: These tests measure how well the lungs take in and release air and move oxygen into the blood. 
  8. Pulse Oximetry: Measurement of the % of hemoglobin bound to oxygen in the bloood.
  9. Supraglottic Airway: An airway used by most EMT’s that creates an airway by establishing it above the glottis or vocal cords. 
  10. Thoracentesis: A procedure to remove fluid or air from the pleural space.

In summary, understanding the medical terminology of the respiratory system is key to effective communication in healthcare settings. Whether discussing specific parts of the respiratory system, associated disorders and conditions, or relevant procedures, these terms provide a solid foundation for any healthcare professional or student. Keep in mind that the best way to master this terminology is through regular practice and use. 

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