The speed of propagation of vesicular lung sound through the lung has not been clearly established. In a recent study (J. Appl. Physiol.: Respirat. Environ. Exercise Physiol. 54: 304-308, 1983), Rice measured the speed of sound through the parenchyma of excised horse lungs and found it to be 25-70 m/s (less than 20% the speed of sound in air). Filling the lung with helium or sulfur hexafluoride changed the speed of transmission by less than 10%, indicating nongas propagation. The present study was designed to measure the speed of sound through human lungs in vivo. Five healthy, nonsmoking males (aged 27-38 yr) were studied. A microphone was placed on the neck beneath the larynx and another at each of eight locations on the chest wall. Measurements were made at functional residual capacity. White noise was band-pass filtered between 125 and 500 Hz, amplified, and delivered to a loudspeaker connected to a mouthpiece. The speed of sound was measured by cross-correlation analysis of the signals simultaneously detected by the tracheal and chest microphones. This was done after breathing both air and a mixture of 80% He in 20% O2 (He-O2). With air, the mean sound-transit time (trachea to chest wall) ranged from 2 ms at the upper chest to 5 ms at the lower chest (speed of approximately 30 m/s). With He-O2 the mean speed increased by only 10%, whereas the predicted increase of sound speed through gas alone would be greater than 100%. These results are consistent with the in vitro findings of Rice and suggest that within the frequency range of vesicular lung sounds transmission of sound introduced at the mouth is predominantly through the lung parenchyma, not through the airways.
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