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When breathing is defined as the amount of air that is moved with the work of breathing (air Holens or breath). ( Inhale = fill lungs with air, exhale = expel air). The process of breathing is called breathing . A person breathes around 20,000 times a day and moves around twelve cubic meters of air.

The terms “breath” and “breathing” are often used synonymously in everyday language. In medicine, breathing is understood as the physical part of breathing, with a distinction being made between an anatomical / physiological aspect ( external breathing ) and a biochemical ( internal breathing ).

Cultural history

All high cultures, such as the ancient Greeks, knew the meaning of the breath. The terms Pneuma and Odem stand for the breath as well as for the spirit and soul as a word meaning, cf. Breathing soul . In Indian philosophy , many forms of yoga and spiritual paths to this day see the breath - cf. the linguistically close “ Atman ” - as a mediator in one way or another. Corresponding techniques, which have to do with breathing, are called pranayama in yoga . After the Second World War, various methods of using the breath therapeutically and educationally through breathing therapy emerged . In the new music of the 20th and 21st centuries, the breath is sometimes used in a targeted manner in pieces for transverse flute solo in order to create certain associations through breathing noises that are consciously made audible in the instrument. Here z. B. shortness of breath or hyperventilation, which scientists z. T. as a musical criticism of a fast-moving society.

In the Egyptian culture at the time of the Pharaohs , too, special importance was attached to breath. For example, the name of the goddess Selket means “who lets you breathe” . What was meant here was their special importance in healing - especially from poisonous scorpion stings. In addition, the so-called opening of the mouth - a ceremony on the mummy of the deceased - had the meaning of enabling the deceased to continue to live in the world of the dead.

Composition of the air we breathe

The air you breathe is available quite evenly in the homosphere . Its main components are 78% nitrogen (N 2 ), 21% oxygen (O 2 ), water vapor and various noble gases as well as 0.04% carbon dioxide (CO 2 ). When inhaled through the nose, this air is additionally moistened with water vapor (which evaporates from the mucous membranes of the nose)

Mammals, including humans, convert part of the oxygen in the air they breathe into carbon dioxide during aerobic respiration . The exhaled air still contains 78% nitrogen (N 2 ), but only approx. 17% oxygen (O 2 ) and approx. 4% carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) and around 1% other components such as acetone or hydrogen. Intestinal gases can also diffuse into the bloodstream and are then excreted through breathing, see also hydrogen breath test .

Water and droplets

The exhaled air also contains water vapor, the condensation of which into fog can be seen well outdoors when the temperature is below zero (as the exhaled air falls below the dew point ). To remove the water exhaled during the night from the air and bed linen, bedrooms are ventilated in the morning.

In the course of the corona crisis and because of other infectious diseases , it was investigated how water droplets can spread through the air we breathe. Theoretically, such droplets can also transport viruses or bacteria . Droplets with a size of 0.6 to 15.9 micrometers were found, but droplets up to a size of 300 micrometers can also arise. Small droplets up to a diameter of approx. 40 micrometers dissolve very quickly after exhaling. Larger particles can move 10–20 m through the air and hit other people in the process. However, the study does not allow any conclusions to be drawn as to how infectious such particles are.


By using laser spectroscopy , scientists from Hanover want to use the breath of patients to infer diseases . The principle of the research project is based on the fact that trace gases are present in the human breath , some of which indicate diseases. One wants to measure the trace gases with a laser beam and suitable sensors . The breath diagnosis would be suitable for infants and the elderly, as no intervention in the body is necessary. The problem: trace gases are only found in extremely low concentrations in the air we breathe. In order to be able to record them, suitable laser sources and sensors must be developed.

The research is primarily aimed at diagnosing respiratory diseases such as lung cancer through to the detection of colon or rectal cancer . The research project should run until June 2007 - with scientists from the Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH) and partners from the Netherlands, Great Britain and Italy.

In addition, so-called ion mobility spectrometers have recently been used in preclinical applications, e.g. B. at the Leibniz Institute for Analytical Sciences , at the Hemer Lung Clinic or at KIST Europe .

Web links

Commons : Breath  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Breath  - Quotes
Wiktionary: Breath  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Karolin Schmitt. " ANIMus icA. Society and breath in music using the example of five contemporary works for the flute. ”In: Mathias Lotz / Matthias van der Minde / Dirk Weidmann (eds.). From Plato to global governance. Designs for human coexistence. Marburg: Tectum Verlag, 2010, pp. 233-252.
  2. Hartmut Lang: Ventilation for Beginners. Ventilation for beginners, 2007, ISBN 978-3-000-18555-7 , p. 73 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  3. DocCheck Flexicon: breathing air. Retrieved September 19, 2017 .
  4. L. Lichtwitz: Clinical Chemistry. Springer-Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-642-99257-5 , p. 321 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  5. ^ Jürgen Ferdinand Riemann: Gastroenterology in Clinic and Practice. Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-131-58361-1 , p. 97 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  6. ^ Jürgen Ferdinand Riemann: Gastroenterology in Clinic and Practice. Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007, ISBN 978-3-131-58361-1 , p. 97 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  7. Detlef Kamke: Physics for medical professionals. Springer-Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-322-80144-9 , p. 249 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  8. Tom Mustroph: The virus and the slipstream . In: The time, accessed April 17, 2020 .