Chapter 3 – Respiratory System Assessment

Introduction to the Respiratory System

The respiratory system is important to assess because it is responsible for gas exchange, specifically facilitating oxygenation and ridding the body of carbon dioxide. If this system is not functioning properly, , , and  can occur. These pathophysiological processes can affect all body systems. As a nurse, your assessment of the respiratory system provides information about the functioning of this system and potential cues that require your action.

Respiratory System Components

The main components of the respiratory system include the upper and lower respiratory tract (see Figure 3.1).

The upper respiratory tract includes:

  • The nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses.
  • The pharynx and larynx.

The lower respiratory tract includes:

  • The trachea, bronchi, and respiratory units.
  • The lungs (three right lobes and two left lobes).
  • The pleural membranes (visceral and parietal) and the pleural cavity.
  • The pulmonary artery and pulmonary vein.
  • The diaphragm.

Shows the main components of the respiratory system as described in the text above.

Shows the location of the frontal sinuses above the eyes and the maxillary sinuses by the zygomatic bones.

Figure 3.1: Anatomy of the respiratory system

(Attribution: Gordon Betts, Kelly A. Young, James A. Wise, Eddie Johnson, Brandon Poe, Dean H. Kruse, Oksana Korol, Jody E. Johnson, Mark Womble, Peter DeSaix. OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. 2013. Used under a CC BY 3.0 license. Download for free at


You have already learned about the anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system: see Video 3.1 and Video 3.2 for a quick overview.


Video 3.1: Respiratory system physiology


Video 3.2: How the lungs work


Clinical Tip

The respiratory system is interconnected and influences many other body systems, so it is rarely assessed in isolation. When attempting to make sense of concerning respiratory cues, nurses commonly assess other body systems: cardiovascular, skin, and musculoskeletal.


Share This Book