The trachea is the long tube that connects your larynx (voice box) to your bronchi. Your bronchi send air to your lungs. Your trachea is a key part of your respiratory system. The trachea is made of rings of cartilage. It’s lined with cells that produce mucus. This mucus keeps allergens, dust particles or other debris out of your lungs.
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Your trachea is part of your tracheobronchial tree. The tracheobronchial tree is where air travels to your lungs and exchanges gases (carbon dioxide and oxygen).
Your tracheobronchial tree includes:
Your trachea’s main function is to carry air in and out of your lungs. Because it’s a stiff, flexible tube, it provides a reliable pathway for oxygen to enter your body.
Your trachea works with the rest of your respiratory system to help you breathe. When you inhale, air moves:
When you breathe out or exhale, your body performs these motions in reverse to carry carbon dioxide out of your body.
In most people, the trachea is about 4 inches (10 centimeters) long — about the width of your hand. It’s about an inch (2.5 centimeters) wide — about as big across as an adult’s finger.
Your trachea sits in your lower neck and upper chest, below your larynx. It’s behind the notch at your lower throat, between the inside edges of your collarbones.
In a diagram of your trachea and other respiratory organs, you can see the trachea between the top lobes of the lungs. It’s in front of your esophagus (tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach).
The trachea has two parts:
Your trachea is made up of 16 to 20 rings of cartilage. Cartilage is a firm yet flexible tissue. It’s your body’s main type of connective tissue.
A moist tissue called mucosa lines each ring of tracheal cartilage. Mucosa have cells called goblet cells. Goblet cells produce a sticky substance called mucus. When you inhale, the mucus traps dust or other small debris to keep it from traveling to your lungs.
In the trachea’s inner layer, you have small, hair-like structures called cilia. Cilia move in rhythm to push mucus out of your trachea so that you either expel or swallow it.
Several conditions can affect your trachea, including:
To keep your trachea, lungs and entire respiratory system healthy, you can:
You should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department if you experience any signs of respiratory distress. Signs of respiratory distress include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The trachea is the tube that connects your voice box with your bronchi in your lungs. It’s a key part of the system that helps you breathe. Your trachea is made of thick rings of cartilage. A substance called mucosa lines this cartilage. Mucosa produces mucus, which traps dust, allergens or other particles to keep them from traveling to your lungs. You can help your entire respiratory system stay healthy by avoiding secondhand smoke, limiting your exposure to air pollution and using protective gear when you’re around allergens or chemical fumes.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/20/2021.
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