The respiratory system consists of the nose, nasopharynx, trachea, and lungs. It brings oxygen from the air and excretes carbon dioxide and water back into the air. First, air is pulled through the trachea into the lungs by the diaphragm pushing down, which creates a vacuum. Air is briefly stored inside small sacs known as alveoli (sing.: alveolus) before being expelled from the lungs when the diaphragm contracts again. Each alveolus is surrounded by capillaries carrying deoxygenated blood, which absorbs oxygen out of the air and into the bloodstream.
For the respiratory system to function properly, there need to be as few impediments as possible to the movement of air within the lungs. Inflammation of the lungs and excess mucus are common sources of breathing difficulties. In asthma, the respiratory system is persistently inflamed, causing wheezing and/or shortness of breath. Pneumonia occurs through infection of the alveoli, and may be caused by tuberculosis. Emphysema, commonly a result of smoking, is caused by damage to connections between the alveoli.