Airway, ventilation and respirations are a big part of emergency medicine and they make up 18-22% of the NREMT exam. This page will focus on airway anatomy and function for emergency medical technicians (EMT). Students can use it as an NREMT study guide or as a reminder to help brush up on basic skills if you are already a licensed EMT.
Airway anatomy can be divided into the upper airway and the lower airway. First responders need to be familiar with respiratory system anatomy in order to keep patients healthy, breathing and adequately ventilated. Below are detailed graphics of both the upper and lower respiratory tracts.
Upper Airway Anatomy
The main components of upper respiratory tract anatomy are:
- Nasal Cavity
Air enters through the mouth and nose and travels into the oropharynx and nasopharynx. It is warmed and moistened before traveling through the glottic opening and past the larynx into the lower respiratory tract.
Lower Respiratory System Anatomy
The main components of the lower respiratory tract anatomy are:
After passing through the upper airway, air travels down the trachea and into the left and right mainstem bronchi. Deeper in the lungs, the mainstem bronchi divide smaller bronchi and then into bronchioles. The bronchioles terminate into the alveoli, which is where gas exchange takes place.
Airway Anatomy and Function
→ The upper airway functions to warm, filter and humidify air while providing a passage for air to enter the body.
→ The lower airway’s main function is gas exchange.
→ Alveoli – Gas exchange takes place here.
→ Bronchi – The right mainstem bronchus is shorter, wider and more straight than the left mainstem bronchus. This is why the right bronchus is a common location of aspirated objects.
→ Larynx – Aka “Voice box.” Contains the vocal cords. The upper airway transitions into the lower airway here.
→ Lungs – The apex of the lung is the top portion which lies above the first rib.
The right lung is made up of three lobes and the left lung is made up of two lobes.
The right lung is separated by the oblique and horizontal fissures. The horizontal fissure divides the upper and middle lobes while the oblique fissure divides the middle and lower lobes.
In the left lung the oblique fissure separates the upper and lower lobes.
→ Trachea – Aka “the windpipe.”
Christina Beutler is the creator of EMT Training Base. She is a former EMT and a current Registered Nurse. Christina’s path changed after taking a Basic First Aid class while in Community College, and a career in healthcare opened up. Working as an Emergency Medical Technician led to a passion for nursing and a job working in the Intensive Care Unit and Critical Care Unit right out of Nursing School. To learn more about Christina’s story, head over to the About page.