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What Is the Role of Gas Exchange in the Respiratory System?

A human respiratory system.
The human respiratory system, showing the trachea, bronchioles, and lungs.
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  • Written By: Jennifer Long
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2014
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Gas exchange in the respiratory system is an important part of respiration. It helps switch harmful gases with good gases. Carbon dioxide is harmful to the body if it accumulates, but during the gas exchange process this gas is removed and replaced with oxygen. Respiration is the beginning of gas exchanging. Oxygen comes in by breathing in while carbon dioxide is expelled by breathing out.

The respiratory system has the responsibility of providing oxygen the body needs to function. All of the other systems rely on oxygen to be able to function and keep the body running the way it should to sustain life. Respiratory organs and tissues work together in a complete process called respiration. During the gas exchange in the respiratory system, carbon dioxide and oxygen are switched, which results in the oxygen passing on to the blood while carbon dioxide gets expelled.

Lungs pull oxygen in through the nose and mouth. Oxygen enters air sacs in the lungs known as alveoli. The alveoli are the location for the exchange. Carbon dioxide must undergo diffusion to be exchanged. This is the process that reduces the concentration of carbon dioxide so that it is better managed by the respiratory system.

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Carbon dioxide concentrations are higher in active cells than they are in the capillaries. Due to this, the cells dump carbon dioxide into the capillaries for removal because they are equipped to handle the volume. In the capillaries, the carbon dioxide and water combine, forming bicarbonate. This mix travels to the alveoli capillaries and mixes with hydrogen ions to create carbonic acid. The alveoli are then able to expel the carbon dioxide with each breath out, ending the process of gas exchange in the respiratory system.

Removing carbon dioxide from the body is important. Although it is a byproduct of the body’s energy-making process, it is harmful. Any respiratory problems that cause a reduction in respiration can cause a buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood. Common respiratory problems include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Accumulations of carbon dioxide in the blood can cause convulsions, lethargy, and eventually death.

Gas exchange in the respiratory system, similar to the functions of other systems, is a vital part of how the body works to maintain healthy conditions. The human body relies heavily on oxygen to perform well on any level. Carbon dioxide takes up valuable space and is harmful, so the body works to remove it.

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