|Bronchus (plural Bronchi)|
|Latin||Bronchus (plural bronchi)|
|Nerve||Pulmonary branches of vagus nerve|
A bronchus (plural bronchi, adjective bronchial), also known as a main or primary bronchus, is a passage of airway in the respiratory tract that conducts air into the lungs. The bronchus branches into smaller tubes, which in turn become bronchioles. No gas exchange takes place in the bronchi.
The human trachea (windpipe) divides into two main or primary bronchi, the left and the right, at the level of the sternal angle and of the fifth thoracic vertebra or up to two vertebrae higher or lower, depending on breathing, at the anatomical point known as the carina. The right main bronchus is wider, shorter, and more vertical than the left main bronchus. The right main bronchus subdivides into three secondary bronchi (also known as lobar bronchi), while the left main bronchus divides into two. The secondary bronchi divide further into tertiary bronchi, (also known as segmental bronchi), each of which supplies a bronchopulmonary segment. A bronchopulmonary segment is a division of a lung separated from the rest of the lung by a septum of connective tissue. This property allows a bronchopulmonary segment to be surgically removed without affecting other segments. There are ten segments per lung, but due to anatomic development, several segmental bronchi in the left lung fuse, giving rise to eight. The segmental bronchi divide into many primary bronchioles which divide into terminal bronchioles, each of which then gives rise to several respiratory bronchioles, which go on to divide into two to eleven alveolar ducts. There are five or six alveolar sacs associated with each alveolar duct. The alveolus is the basic anatomical unit of gas exchange in the lung.
The hyaline cartilage forms an incomplete ring in the bronchi, giving them a "D"-shaped appearance in the larger bronchi and as small plates and islands in the smaller bronchi. Smooth muscle is present continuously around the bronchi.
In the mediastinum, at the level of the fourth thoracic vertebra, the trachea divides into the right and left primary bronchi. The bronchi branch into smaller and smaller passageways until they terminate in tiny air sacs called alveoli.
The cartilage and mucous membrane of the primary bronchi are similar to those in the trachea. As the branching continues through the bronchial tree, the amount of hyaline cartilage in the walls decreases until it is absent in the bronchioles. As the cartilage decreases, the amount of smooth muscle increases. The mucous membrane also undergoes a transition from ciliated pseudostratified columnar epithelium to simple cuboidal epithelium to simple squamous epithelium.
The alveolar ducts and alveoli consist primarily of simple squamous epithelium, which permits rapid diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Exchange of gases between the air in the lungs and the blood in the capillaries occurs across the walls of the alveolar ducts and alveoli.
Bronchitis is defined as inflammation of the bronchi, which can either be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viral or bacterial infections. Most sufferers of chronic bronchitis also suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and is usually associated with smoking or long-term exposure to irritants. Asthma is hyperreactivity of the bronchi with an inflammatory component, often in response to allergens.
While the left mainstem bronchus departs from the trachea at an angle, the right mainstem bronchus is almost a vertical continuation of the trachea. This anatomy predisposes the right lung to several problems:
- If food, liquids, or foreign bodies are aspirated, they often will lodge in the right mainstem bronchus. Aspiration pneumonia may result.
- If the endotracheal tube used for intubation is inserted too far, it usually lodges in the right mainstem bronchus. This allows ventilation of the right lung, but leaves the left lung useless.
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