The primary function of the respiratory system is to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Inhaled oxygen enters the lungs and reaches the alveoli. The layers of cells lining the alveoli and the surrounding capillaries are each only one cell thick and are in very close contact with each other. This barrier between air and blood averages about 1 micron (1/10,000 of a centimeter) in thickness. Oxygen passes quickly through this air-blood barrier into the blood in the capillaries. Similarly, carbon dioxide passes from the blood into the alveoli and is then exhaled.
Oxygen Transport from Lungs to Cells