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Why is breathing essential?
Breathing is how we move oxygen around our bodies, and move carbon dioxide out of our systems.
The oxygen in our lungs is bound to red blood cells, and when we breathe, our blood stream transports these cells around our body. The
oxygen and glucose are broken down during a process called ?glycosis', to produce carbon dioxide and water, which the body then gets rid of.
Glycosis, and the 'fuel' it creates is essential for cell function and survival. The body has large spare stores of glucose, but not of oxygen.
Therefore if our breathing stops, tissue injury can occur very quickly.


How does breathing work?
We use our "breathing apparatus to breathe. This consists of the airways (nose, throat, windpipe and the bronchial trees, which pass air into the lungs), the rib cage, the breathing muscles (diaphragm and chest wall muscles) and the lungs.
Our brains send regular messages along our spinal cords and peripheral nerves to our breathing muscles. Our muscles respond to these
messages and increase their activity, decreasing the volume of the chest and moving air in and out of the lungs. When air has moved in to the lungs through the bronchial trees, oxygen diffuses into the blood stream, and carbon dioxide moves from the blood stream into our airway, and out of the body. This process is known as ?gas exchange.

controllo del respiro How is ventilation controlled?
Neural sensors in the brain monitor the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
The amount of air that is inhaled with each breath is called Tidal Volume (TV). The Respiratory Rate (RR) and the Tidal Volume determine the Minute Ventilation (MV).
TV (ml) x RR (min-1)= MV (ml x min-1)

When our body needs more oxygen, and less carbon dioxide, such as during exercise or when we have a temperature, our respiratory drive will increase the rate and depth of breathing to adjust Minute Ventilation.


How does breathing change with age?
While people are still growing, they have a relatively high demand for fuel and oxygen. Therefore, Minute Ventilation rates are automatically adjusted throughout our lifespan to provide us with the oxygen we need. Therefore, MV can range from around 40 breaths per minute in the newborn period, to a rate of 12 - 18 breaths per minute in adulthood. In contrast, tidal volumes remain relatively constant over time.

What is hypoventilation?

In medicine, "hypo" means "below" and "ventilation" means "breathing". So hypoventilation means "under-breathing". In certain circumstances, such as when people aren't fully conscious, and in central hypoventilation syndromes our body's respiratory drive can become too low to
allow normal rates of gas exchange. This can lead to decreased levels of oxygen (hypoxaemia), and increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood (hypercapnia or hypercarbia). This imbalance can be damaging to the brain, heart and lungs, especially in babies and young children whose organs are still developing.
Hypoventilation can be caused by diseases of the muscles, lungs, upper airways and the brain, particularly in the deep brain structures, known as the ?brainstem'.

update: 11/01/2012

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