Ventilation is the process of moving air in and out of the lungs. Alveolar ventilation has the same meaning, except it specifically focuses on the process that takes place in the alveoli of the lungs.

As a Respiratory Therapist, it’s essential to develop an understanding of the properties and physiology of the respiratory system. Hopefully, this guide can help make the learning process easier for you. So if you’re ready, let’s get started.

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What is Alveolar Ventilation?

Alveolar ventilation refers to the ventilatory process that takes place in the alveoli of the lungs. This is where the body is able to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.

It can be calculated by multiplying the breathing frequency by the alveolar tidal volume per breath.

Alveolar Ventilation = Frequency x Alveolar Tidal Volume

The efficiency of alveolar ventilation relies on the amount of gases that reach the alveoli.

For example, if alveolar ventilation increases, the lungs would remove too much CO2 causing the PaCO2 to decrease. This is known as hyperventilation and results in an increased pH (respiratory alkalosis).

Properties of Ventilation Practice Questions:

1. What is internal respiration?
The gas exchange between systemic capillaries and cells

2. What is external respiration?
The gas exchange between pulmonary capillaries and the alveoli

3. What is respiration?
The exchange of gases providing the blood and tissues with oxygen and removing excess carbon dioxide

4. What does ventilation mean?
The process of taking air into the lungs and expelling it into the atmosphere

5. What does barometric pressure mean?
The force exerted by the air that surrounds the body

6. What is the normal range for barometric pressure?
The normal range is 760 to 1033 cmH2O.

7. What is the difference between atmospheric pressure and barometric pressure?
There is no difference between the two.

8. What is a pressure gradient?
The change in pressure between two points

9. What causes airflow?
The change in pressure gradient from outside the body to the alveoli and lungs requires a pressure-gradient change in the opposite direction

10. What causes the pressure gradient change during respiration?
The diaphragm

11. What is Boyle’s Law?
A gas law that states that the volume and pressure of a gas have an inverse relationship

12. What is the pressure gradient at end-expiration?
0 mmHg

13. How much does the normal pleural pressure change during quiet breathing?
2-4 mmHg

14. What is driving pressure?
The pressure difference between two points in a tube or vessel

15. What is transthoracic pressure?
The difference between alveolar pressure and body surface pressure

16. What measures the elastic forces of the lungs?
Lung compliance

17. How is lung compliance determined?
It can be determined by the change in volume divided by the change in pressure.

18. What is a tension pneumothorax?
A condition of too much force for the lungs’ elastic capability that can cause a rupture

19. What is the iron lung?
A negative pressure ventilator that was invented in the 1920s that was primarily used to treat patients with polio

20. What is surface tension?
A molecular cohesive force at the liquid-gas interface

21. What is Laplace’s Law?
A law that states that the distending pressure of a bubble depends on the surface tension and size of the bubble

22. What is pulmonary surfactant composed of, and how does it work?
It is composed of 90% phospholipids and 10% protein. It decreases surface tension in fluids, increasing the exchange of gases in the alveoli.

23. What does dynamic mean?
It is the forces in action that cause the pressure changes required to move gas in and out of the lungs.

24. What is Poiseuille’s Law?
A law that states that velocity is directly proportional to the pressure of a liquid and is inversely proportional to the viscosity

25. What is the normal airway resistance in the tracheobronchial tree?
0.5-1.5cm H20/L/sec

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26. What is the difference between dynamic compliance and lung compliance?
They are the same in a healthy lung. Lung compliance is measured at the period of 0 gas flow. Dynamic compliance is measured during gas flow.

27. As airway resistance increases, what happens to the respiratory rate?
It decreases

28. What is a normal tidal volume?
5-7 ml/kg of ideal body weight (IBW)

29. What is dead space ventilation?
The portion of inspired air that does not reach the alveoli for gas exchange

30. What are the three types of dead space ventilation?
Anatomic, alveolar, and physiologic

31. What is the formula for minute alveolar ventilation?
Va = (Vt – Vd) x breaths/minute

32. What are Biot’s respirations?
A breathing pattern characterized by short episodes of rapid, uniformly deep inspirations followed by 10-30 seconds of apnea

33. What is tachypnea?
A rapid shallow ventilatory pattern

34. What is hyperpnea?
An increase in the depth of breathing, with or without an increase in frequency

35. What is hyperventilation?
An increase in rate or depth of breathing that leads to a decrease in alveolar ventilation

36. What is hypoventilation?
A decrease in the rate or depth of breathing

37. What is orthopnea?
The ability to breathe only in an upright position

38. What is dyspnea?
A term that means difficulty breathing

39. What is Cheyne-Stokes breathing?
A breathing pattern characterized by a gradual increase and decrease in volume and rate of breathing followed by 10-30 seconds of apnea

40. What is Kussmaul breathing?
A breathing pattern characterized by an increased rate and depth

41. What are the four things that a Respiratory Therapist must know to understand the process of ventilation?
1. The mechanisms of pulmonary ventilation, 2. The elastic properties of the lungs and chest wall, 3. The dynamic characteristics of the lungs and how they affect ventilation, and 4. The characteristics of normal and abnormal ventilator patterns

42. What is Dalton’s law?
A law that states that the sum of partial pressures exerted by all gases in the atmosphere equals the barometric pressure

43. If the PO2 is 100 mmHg at one barometric pressure (760 mmHg), what is the approximate PO2 if the pressure is increased to 1,520 mm Hg in a hyperbaric chamber?
200 mmHg

44. What is Charles’s law?
A law that states that a gas volume varies with temperature at constant pressure

45. What is a Kelvin?
A base unit of temperature

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46. What is barometric pressure?
The force exerted by the air that surrounds the earth and the body

47. What is expiration?
It occurs when the intra-alveolar pressure is higher than the atmospheric pressure at the point in the ventilatory cycle.

48. What gas law states that constant temperature and a volume of a gas varies inversely proportional to its pressure?
Boyle’s law

49. At what point in the respiratory cycle can an equilibrium point be reached?
End-inspiration and end-expiration

50. What are intercostal retractions?
A general term for the inward movement of tissue between the ribs during inspiration due to an increased negative intrapleural pressure generated during respiratory distress

51. What is transmural pressure?
The difference between the alveolar pressure and the pleural pressure

52. What is transthoracic pressure?
The difference between the alveolar pressure and the body surface pressure

52. What is lung compliance?
A clinical measurement used to evaluate the elastic forces of the lungs

54. How do air trapping and hyperinflation affect lung compliance?
It causes lung compliance to decrease

55. How do obstructive diseases affect lung compliance?
They cause lung compliance to decrease

56. How do restrictive diseases affect lung compliance?
They cause lung compliance to decrease

57. When a positive pressure breath is delivered from a mechanical ventilator, how would intra-alveolar and intrapleural pressures be affected during inspiration?
Both will increase

58. When a tension pneumothorax occurs during positive pressure ventilation, how will the cardiac output and blood pressure be affected?
Both will decrease

59. What law best explains the basic operation of the negative pressure ventilator?
Boyle’s Law

60. What is pulmonary surfactant?
The substance in alveoli that is responsible for lowering surface tension

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61. What respiratory disorders can cause a pulmonary surfactant deficiency?
Pulmonary embolism, pulmonary edema, atelectasis, and ARDS

62. What is derived when the pressure difference between the mouth and the alveoli is divided by the flow rate?
Airway resistance

63. What is laminar flow?
A flow pattern that occurs in the airways at low flow rates and pressure gradients

64. What is turbulent flow?
A flow pattern that occurs in the airways at high flow rates and high-pressure gradients.

65. What is a time constant?
It is defined as the time required to inflate a lung region to 60% of its filling capacity.

66. What is dynamic compliance?
It is defined as the change in volume in the lungs divided by the change in transpulmonary pressure during the time required for one breath.

67. What is the average respiratory rate for adults at rest?
12-18 breaths/min

68. When the end-expiratory pause is factored in, what is the normal I:E ratio for an adult at rest?
1:2

69. What is the average respiratory rate for a healthy toddler at rest?
25-40 breaths

70. What is the approximate volume of anatomic dead space?
1mL/lb of ideal body weight

71. What is alveolar dead space?
It is a term for alveolar ventilation without pulmonary capillary perfusion.

72. What is physiologic dead space?
It is the sum of anatomic dead space and alveolar dead space.

73. Which portion of the lungs has the most negative pleural pressure in the upright position?
The apex

74. In the upright lung, how does compliance vary across the lung?
The compliance in the apices is lower than the bases.

75. How does the normal adult respiratory pattern change when lung compliance decreases?
Respiratory rate increases

76. What does apnea mean?
It is a ventilatory pattern defined as the complete absence of spontaneous breathing.

77. What is Biot’s breathing?
A breathing pattern in which short episodes of rapid, uniform deep breaths are followed by 10-30 seconds of apnea

78. What is tachypnea?
A rapid respiratory rate

79. What is hyperpnea?
A breathing pattern in which the depth of breathing increases

80. In which breathing pattern is an individual only able to breathe comfortably in the upright position?
Orthopnea

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81. Which abnormal breathing pattern is most commonly associated with ketoacidosis?
Kussmaul breathing

82. What is the medical definition of ventilation?
It is a mechanism by which oxygen is carried from the atmosphere to the alveoli, and carbon dioxide is carried from the alveoli to the atmosphere.

83. What is the driving pressure?
It is the pressure difference between two points in a tube or vessel, and it is also the force moving gas or fluid through the tube or vessel.

84. What is transpulmonary pressure?
It is the difference between barometric pressure and alveolar pressure.

85. What is transmural pressure?
It is the pressure difference that occurs across the airway wall subtracting the intra-airway pressure from the pressure on the outside of the airway.

86. What is positive transmural pressure?
It exists when the pressure within the airway is greater than the pressure outside of the airway.

87. What is negative transmural pressure?
It exists when the pressure outside the airway is greater than inside the airway.

88. What is transthoracic pressure?
The difference between alveolar pressure and body surface pressure

89. How does the chest wall move on a natural tendency?
It moves outward for expansion

90. How do the lungs move on their natural tendency?
They naturally move inward

91. What is the technical definition of lung compliance?
The change in lung volume per unit of pressure

92. What is the definition of elastance?
The natural ability of matter to respond directly to force, and to return to its original resting position or shape after the external force no longer exists

93. What is Hooke’s Law?
A law that states that when a truly elastic body is acted on by one unit of force, the elastic body will stretch one unit of length

94. What is the composition of pulmonary surfactant?
It is composed of 90% phospholipids and 10% protein.

95. What is the technical definition of airway resistance?
The pressure difference between the mouth and the alveoli divided by flow rate

96. What is the definition of tidal volume?
The volume of air that normally moves into and out of the lungs in one quiet breath

97. What is the definition of alveolar ventilation?
It refers only to the inspired air that reaches the alveoli and is effective in terms of gas exchange.

98. What is eupnea?
A term that describes normal spontaneous breathing

99. What is Cheyenne-Stokes breathing?
It’s a breathing pattern with 10-30 seconds of apnea, followed by a gradual increase in the volume and frequency of breathing. Then, it is followed by a gradual decrease in the volume of breathing until another period of apnea occurs.

100. What are the two primary functions of the lungs?
To supply the body with oxygen and remove carbon dioxide

101. What are the two phases of ventilation?
Inspiration and expiration

102. What is positive pressure?
Pressure that is greater than atmospheric pressure

103. What is negative pressure?
Pressure that is lower than atmospheric pressure

104. What are the three important pressure gradients involved in ventilation?
Transrespiratory, transpulmonary, and transthoracic

105. What does the transthoracic pressure represent?
It represents the difference in pressure between the pleural space and the body surface. It is the pressure across the chest wall. It represents the total pressure needed to expand or contract the lungs and chest wall together.

106. What happens as inspiration begins?
Muscular effort expands the thorax causing a decrease in pleural pressure; the transpulmonary pressure gradient widens, causing the alveoli to expand, which causes a negative transrespiratory pressure, and air enters the lungs

107. What happens as expiration begins?
The thorax recoils, and transpulmonary pressure starts to increase. Alveolar pressure increases, transpulmonary pressure decreases, and the alveoli begin to deflate. At this point, the alveolar pressure exceeds that at the airway opening.

108. In order to generate pressure gradients, the lungs must be what?
They must be distended.

109. In order to increase lung volume, what must be applied?
Pressure

110. The amount of inflation or stretch is measured as a volume by what?
It is measured with a spirometer.

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111. The recoil of the lung is a combination of what two things?
Tissue elasticity and surface tension

112. During inflation, additional pressure is needed to overcome what?
Surface tension

113. What cells produce pulmonary surfactant?
Alveolar type II cells

114. What does compliance measure?
It measures the distensibility of the lung.

115. Compliance is measured under what conditions?
Static conditions (no airflow)

116. The measurement of pulmonary compliance in a patient requires the placement of what?
It requires the placement of a balloon-tipped catheter in the esophagus.

117. What does the compliance curve of a patient with emphysema look like?
It is steeper and displaced to the right.

118. What does the compliance curve of a patient with pulmonary fibrosis look like?
It is flatter than a normal curve and is shifted down and to the right.

119. The tendency of the chest wall to expand is offset by what?
It is offset by the contractile force of the lungs.

120. Diseases that alter the compliance of either the chest wall or lung often disrupt the balance point, usually with a change in what?
Lung volume

121. Inhalation occurs when the balance between the lungs and the chest wall does what?
Shifts

122. At the beginning of a breath, the tendency of the chest wall to expand facilitates what?
It facilitates lung expansion.

123. What diseases can reduce chest wall compliance and lung volumes?
Obesity, kyphoscoliosis, and other restrictive diseases

124. The total compliance of the respiratory system equals?
It equals lung compliance, plus the compliance of the thorax.

125. What can affect the total compliance of the respiratory system?
It can be affected by the position of the patient or by disorders that affect the lungs or chest wall.

126. Airway resistance accounts for how much of the frictional resistance to ventilation?
80%

127. What is the normal range for airway resistance in healthy adults?
0.5–2.5 cmH2O

128. How is airway resistance measured?
It can be measured with a pneumotachometer.

129. How is alveolar pressure measured in the body?
It can be measured with a plethysmograph.

130. How much of the total resistance to flow is attributed to airways smaller than 2 mm in diameter where flow is mainly laminar?
20%

131. Airway caliber is determined by what factors?
It is determined by the anatomic support provided to the airways and pressure differences across their walls.

132. What do the larger airways mainly depend on for support?
Cartilage

133. What do the smaller airways mainly depend on for support?
The surrounding lung parenchyma

134. When does dynamic airway compression occur in healthy adults?
It occurs only at lung volumes well below the resting expiratory level.

135. Destruction of elastic tissue does what to lung compliance?
It increases lung compliance.

136. The assessment of mechanical work of breathing involves the measurement of what?
It involves the measurement of the physical parameters of force and distance as they relate to moving air in and out of the lungs.

137. How is the mechanical work of breathing calculated?
WOB = Change in Pressure x Change in Volume

138. When can total mechanical work be measured?
It can be measured during artificial ventilation if the respiratory muscles are completely at rest.

139. What happens to work of breathing when a pulmonary disease is present?
It increases dramatically.

140. What breathing pattern is expected in a patient with pulmonary fibrosis?
They often have a rapid, shallow breathing pattern that requires more energy to increase their breathing rate.

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141. When increased work of breathing occurs with respiratory muscle weakness, what happens to the inspiratory muscles?
They become fatigued, which results in a decreased tidal volume and increased respiratory rate.

142. How is the oxygen cost of breathing assessed?
It can be assessed by measuring the rate of oxygen consumption at rest and at increased levels of ventilation.

143. What is the average oxygen cost of breathing in an individual?
0.5–1.0 mL of oxygen per liter of increased ventilation

144. The rate of oxygen consumption by the respiratory muscles is closely related to what?
It is closely related to the inspiratory pressures generated by the diaphragm.

145. An abnormally high oxygen cost of breathing is one factor that limits exercise in what type of patients?
It often limits patients with obstructive diseases.

146. Increased oxygen consumption by the respiratory muscles may also contribute to what when dealing with mechanical ventilation?
It may contribute to difficulty weaning patients off the ventilator.

147. Is ventilation distributed evenly in the lungs?
No

148. What two factors account for unevenness in the distribution of ventilation?
Regional and local factors

149. What are the regional factors in the distribution of ventilation?
Relative differences in thoracic expansion and regional transpulmonary pressure gradients

150. Where do the thorax and respiratory muscles cause greater expansion?
They cause greater expansion in the lung bases.

Medical Disclaimer: This content is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a physician with any questions that you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you read in this article. We strive for 100% accuracy, but errors may occur, and medications, protocols, and treatment methods may change over time.

References

The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:

  • Faarc, Kacmarek Robert PhD Rrt, et al. Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care. 12th ed., Mosby, 2020. [Link]
  • Jardins, Des Terry. Cardiopulmonary Anatomy & Physiology: Essentials of Respiratory Care. 7th ed., Cengage Learning, 2019. [Link]
  • Intagliata, Sal. “Physiology, Lung Dead Space – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2 Sept. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482501.
  • Hoffman, A. “Comparison of Alveolar Ventilation, Oxygenation, Pressure Support, and Respiratory System Resistance in Response to Noninvasive versus Conventional Mechanical Ventilation in Foals.” PubMed, Dec. 1997, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9401700.
  • “Physiology, Pulmonary Ventilation and Perfusion.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 Sept. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539907.

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