Chest X-ray Anatomy
Trachea and major bronchi

Key points

  • The large airways contain air and are therefore less dense (blacker) than surrounding tissue
  • The trachea should be central

The large airways are visible on most good quality chest X-rays. They contain air and so are of lower density (blacker) than the surrounding soft tissues. The trachea branches at the carina, into the left and right main bronchi, and these can often be followed as they branch beyond the hila and into the lungs.

Normal chest X-ray

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Normal chest X-ray

  • The trachea and bronchi are visible - branching at the carina
  • The trachea passes to the right of the aorta and so may be slightly off mid-line to the right
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Assessing the airways

Start your assessment of every chest X-ray by looking at the airways. The trachea should be central or slightly to the right.

If the trachea is deviated, it is important to establish if this is because the patient has been incorrectly positioned (rotated), or if there is pathology. If the trachea is genuinely deviated you should then try to decide if it has been pushed or pulled by a disease process.

Page author: Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust UK (Read bio)

Last reviewed: July 2019