Bronchial Tubes and Your Asthma

Your bronchial tubes are one of the tubes where air passes through your lungs to get to the area where oxygen enters the bloodstream and waste products are released so they can be breathed out of the body.

A woman out of breath while out on a walk
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How Breathing Works

When you breathe air in, it passes through your nose or mouth, through the larynx, and into the trachea or windpipe.

From your trachea, air splits off into your right and left main bronchial tubes, or right and left main bronchus.

As your bronchial tubes continue to branch off and get smaller and smaller, they are referred to as bronchi and then bronchioles. Your airways terminate at the air sacs called alveoli, where the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen takes place. The alveoli are surrounded by a network of blood vessels called capillaries. The capillaries are where oxygen enters the bloodstream to be delivered to the rest of the body and the body gets rid of some waste products such as carbon dioxide.

After the oxygen enters the bloodstream in the capillaries, it travels back to the heart where it is distributed to the rest of the body. As oxygen is delivered to cells in the body it is exchanged for carbon dioxide that is then delivered back to the capillaries and ultimately exhaled out of the lungs.

Bronchial Tubes Also Prevent Foreign Invaders

While your healthcare provider probably often talks about the overproduction of mucus in asthma, you need some mucus to be healthy. The mucus acts as a sticky pad and tries to keep foreign things that should not be in your lungs out. Not only does the mucus keep the lungs moist, but it acts as a trap keeping out things like dust, bacteria, or viruses that could trigger an asthma attack.

How Bronchial Tubes Are Impacted by Asthma

Asthma affects the bronchial tubes by causing inflammation that can lead to bronchoconstriction and increased mucus production that impairs the flow of air. As a result, the changes lead to symptoms such as:

The treatments for changes in the bronchial tubes are both drugs to provide acute symptom relief and drugs designed to prevent asthma symptoms. Rescue inhalers are designed to provide acute asthma relief by opening up your airways and increasing airflow. These medications are only taken as needed and use more than twice per week indicates poor asthma control. Preventive medications, on the other hand, are taken daily no matter how you are feeling. These medications prevent inflammation and increased mucus production from getting to the point to increase your asthma symptoms.

Asthma usually does not permanently damage the structure of the bronchial tubes, but other diseases can, such as:

  • Recurrent infections
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Immune disorders
  • Foreign body

However, there are long-term consequences of poorly controlled asthma. While most asthma symptoms are reversible with treatment, chronic inflammation can lead to a process called airway remodeling. Over many years of poor asthma control, chronic scarring of the lung can occur and eventually lead to disability. The only way to prevent this from occurring is to get proactive about your asthma.

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.