06.05 Respiratory Terminology

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Included In This Lesson



  1. Respiratory System
  1. General Respiratory Terms
  2. Divisions of the Respiratory System
  3. Ventilation and Breathing
  4. Common Terms

Nursing Points


  1. General Respiratory Terms
    1. Carbon Dioxide – capn/o
    2. Oxygen – ox/o or -oxia
    3. Lungs – pulmon/o
    4. Chest – thorac/o or -thorax
    5. Air – pneum/o
  2. Divisions of the Respiratory System
    1. Upper Airway
      1. Nose – nas/o or rhin/o
      2. Throat – pharyng/o
      3. Tonsils – tonsill/o
      4. Voice box – laryng/o
    2. Lower Airway
      1. Trachea – trache/o
      2. Bronchi – bronchi/o
      3. Lungs – pulmon/o or pneumon/o
      4. Alveoli – alveol/o
      5. Pleura – pleur/o
      6. Diaphragm – phren/o
  3. Ventilation & Breathing
    1. Breathing – spir/o or -pnea
    2. Spitting – -ptysis
    3. Straight/Upright (positional) – orth/o
  4. Common Respiratory Terms
    1. Alveoli – alveol/o
    2. Bronchi – bronchi/o
    3. Epiglottis – epiglott/o
    4. Lobe – lob/o
    5. Mediastinum – mediastin/o
    6. Nose – nas/o
    7. Straight or Upright – orth/o
    8. Oxygen – ox/o
    9. Chest – pector/o
    10. Throat – pharyng/o
    11. Diaphragm – phren/o
    12. Nose – rhin/o
    13. Sinus – sinus/o
    14. Chest – thorac/o
    15. Smell – -osmia
    16. Oxygen – -oxia


In this lesson we’re going to talk about the medical terminology for the respiratory system. 
To get started we need to cover some general respiratory terms. Anytime we’re dealing with gas exchange we always want to look at carbon dioxide and oxygen. Anytime we are dealing with carbon dioxide we refer to it as capno, and oxygen as oxo or oxia as a suffix. 
Just like with the body as a whole, anytime we’re dealing with the chest we were refer to it as the thorax or thoraco, and the lungs are often referred to as pulmono.  Another term you need to be familiar with is pneumo, which means air.  So, if a patient has air that becomes trapped inside the chest (the throrax), and not in the lungs where it’s supposed to be, it causes a condition called pneumothorax. 
Now the respiratory system is divided into two airways, the upper airway and the lower airway. The upper airway is everything above the larynx. So these are things like the nose, throat, tonsils, and includes the voice box or the larynx, and all the sinuses. Anytime you’re dealing with the nose, you should always want to refer to it as naso  or rhino. The throat is often referred to as pharyngo,  and the tonsils tonsilo. The voice box,  or the larynx, is often referred to as laryngo. So you would see this in the term laryngoscopy, which is to visually inspect the larynx with an instrument.
 The lower airway is where the lungs are and includes all the associated airways. So these are things like the trachea, bronchi, alveoli, pleura, and the diaphragm.  The trachea you should always refer to as a tracheo and the bronchi refer to as bronchio. Now the lungs can be referred to as pulmono, or pneumono  and the alveoli will be referred to as alveolo. The pleura,  which is a membrane that helps to cover the lungs, is often referred to as pleuro. You would see this in the term like pleuritis, which is inflammation of the pleura. Now the diaphragm is a little bit different, in that the word that used is phreno. You would see this and the word phrenic nerve, which is the nerve that innervates the diaphragm to stimulate contraction.
When we talk about breathing there’s a common combining form used to talk about breathing which is Spiro. You would see this in the word spirometer, which is this device here and is used to improve breathing function after something like surgery. The other term that you would see is pnea,  which is often used to describe a rate or effort. So dyspnea would be difficulty breathing, apnea would be the absence of breathing, tachypnea  would be really fast breathing and a bradypnea  would be really slow breathing. 
Other terms that you may see our ptysis,  which is spitting. If a patient is spitting up blood or coughing up blood you actually refer to this as hemoptysis. Another term you may see is ortho, and it may not make a lot of sense in the ventilation or breathing. But if you have a patient that has orthopnea, that means that they have to sit up in an upright position in order to breathe efficiently. So if a patient is orthopneic, that means that they’re using pillows to put them in a better breathing position because they have some sort of breathing issue. 
And as always I want to include some common terms dealing with this specific body system. We’ve covered a lot of these but a few that you may not notice would be something like lobe, which is referred to as Lobo,  or the term for mediastinum, which is mediastino.  Take some time to practice these, because some of these words are really tricky to learn what they mean, and also really difficult to say. 
Okay so let’s recap. We’re focusing on the anatomy of the respiratory system for this section of medical terminology. We focus on the upper and lower airway which is  everything above the larynx and below the larynx. Remember that everything above the larynx is going to include the pharynx which is a throat, the sinuses and the nose. And the lower airway is going to include the trachea, bronchi, the lungs, the alveoli and the pleura. This is everything in the chest. And finally we also want to focus our medical terms on ventilation and breathing, and also positioning. 
And that’s it for our lesson on medical terminology associated with the respiratory system. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best self today, and as always, happy nursing!