We studied the mechanisms by which turbulent flow induces tracheal wall vibrations detected as tracheal breath sounds (TRBSs). The effects of flow rate at transitional Reynold's numbers (1300–10,000) and gas density on spectral patterns of TRBSs in eight normal subjects were measured. TRBSs were recorded with a contact sensor during air and heliox breathing at four flow rates (1.0, 1.5, 2.0, and 2.5 l/s). We found that normalized TRBSs were proportional to flow to the 1.89 power during inspiration and to the 1.59 power during expiration irrespective of gas density. The amplitude of TRBSs with heliox was lower than with air by a factor of 0.33 ± 0.12 and 0.44 ± 0.16 during inspiration and expiration, respectively. The spectral resonance frequencies were higher during heliox than air breathing by a factor of 1.75 ± 0.2—approximately the square root of the reciprocal of the air/heliox wave propagation speed ratio. In conclusion, the flow-induced pressure fluctuations inside the trachea, which cause tracheal wall vibrations, were detected as TRBSs consist of two components: (1) a dominant local turbulent eddy component whose amplitude is proportional to the gas density and nonlinearly related to the flow; and (2) a propagating acoustic component with resonances whose frequencies correspond to the length of the upper airway and to the free-field sound speed. Therefore, TRBSs consist primarily of direct turbulent eddy pressure fluctuations that are perceived as sound during auscultation.
Pulmonary acoustics Airway mechanics Turbulent flow Sound transmission Auscultation Gas density