Modelling of microparticle transport and deposition in respiratory airway via nasal inhalation

Kiao Inthavong, Qinjiang Ge, Jiyuan Tu
School of Aerospace Mechanical Manufacturing Engineering, RMIT University Bundoora, Australia

Abstract— Modelling of the respiratory airways has been limited to local regions only such as the nasal cavity or the lung airways. This paper integrates the different respiratory organs from the nasal cavity through the pharynx, larynx, trachea, and the first three generations of the lung airways. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation of steady inhalation at 15L/min was performed on the model and a range of micron particles were tracked through the domain. It was found that particles larger than 20µm deposit mainly in the nasal cavity and in fact a small percentage of particles reach the pharynx and larynx. The larynx region was identified as a region that produces complex flow patterns and enhances mixing of any particles that pass through it. The deposition fraction and patterns within the upper and lower respiratory regions is presented which will help put into perspective current deposition efficiencies reported for local respiratory organ Keywords: micronparticle; respiratory airway; deposition; CFD

It has been found that larger particles demonstrate high inertial properties which lead to deposition by impaction when the air flow streamlines curve and the particle no longer can follow the stream pathlines [8]. However smaller particles have less mass and hence lower inertial properties which allows these particles to behave similar to tracer-gases. Despite this a small percentage of these particles will deposit in the nasal cavity. Because of the early deposition within the nasal cavity, the remaining deposition fraction will travel further downstream. Determining this value can be valuable for CFD simulations that focus on individual organs or components of respiratory system, since the fraction represents the likelihood of further deposition of particles of a given size that has been inhaled via the nasal cavity. This paper presents a study of the deposition of different size micron particles (1-50µm) under a steady laminar flow rate of 15L/min throughout the respiratory airway that extends from the nasal cavity through the conducting airways down to the first three generations of the tracheobronchial airway tree. Airflow patterns and velocity profiles are shown to highlight some significant flow regions. Furthermore the deposition patterns and fraction within the upper and lower respiratory regions is presented which will help put into perspective current deposition efficiencies reported for local respiratory organs (e.g. trachea, lung airways). II.



Numerical simulation through the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a powerful technique for particle deposition, transport and airflow pattern analysis and visualization in the respiratory system. Recently there have been a number of simulations of aerosol dynamics in the respiratory system using CFD. This includes airflow patterns and particle deposition in the nasal cavity [1-3]; in the trachea and larynx [4, 5], and in the tracheobronchial/lung airways [6, 7]. These past studies among others in the literature have mainly focused on one region only of the respiratory system. By doing so the upstream flow conditions are often assumed by applying a suitable boundary condition. The primary function of the respiratory system is gas exchange whereby oxygen from the external environment is passed into bloodstream to replace the carbon dioxide which is expelled during exhalation. The respiratory system can be separated into regions based on the upper respiratory tract (consisting of the oral and nasal cavity, pharynx, and larynx) and the lower respiratory tract (trachea, bronchi, and bronchioles). The inhaled air passes through each of the conducting passageways, traversing through the highly complex geometry which exhibits many irregular shapes and sharp curves. Consequently complex airflow patterns are formed in the different regions of the airway. Furthermore inhaled particles, whether they are pollutants found in the surrounding environment or drug particles injected into the inhaled air, are transported by the airflow.

A. Model reconstruction from CT scans CT scanning requires the use of x-rays and which means ionizing radiation exposure, which limits the scanning time. This means that current CT scan protocols will provide enough scanned images for one region of the respiratory airway alone. This means that in order to retain the high resolution of the CT scans the respiratory airway model in this study was obtained through three different sets of CT scans which represented three different regions of the respiratory airway. Typically a scan protocol will involve 1-mm collimation, a 40-cm field of view, 120 kV peak and 200 mA producing 1-5mm thickness with voxel size of 0.625 x 0.625. Each set of scans produced DICOM images that were converted into 3D models and stitched together within the computer software Geomagics. ICEM-CFD (ANSYS Inc.) was used to create the data structures and the mesh for it to be ready for Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) analysis using Fluentv12.1. An initial model with 100,000 unstructured tetrahedral cells was initially used to solve the air flow field at a flow rate of 15L/min. The

model was then improved by cell adaptation techniques to refine the grid in order to achieve grid independence. The final grid consisted of 2.5 million cells which is shown in Figure 1. The meshing scheme used a hybrid mesh that included fiveprismatic layers with inner tetrahedral core. It is noted that the nasal cavity used in this study is the same model that has been applied in earlier gas-particle studies within the nasal cavity by the authors [8-11].

particle centre and a surface was less than or equal to the particle radius. The particle tracking is then terminated. Inhalation through the nasal cavity is induced through a pressure difference between the nostril inlets (Pin = 0Pa) and the nasopharynx outlet (Pout) that is set to a negative pressure relative to atmospheric pressure that is caused by the movement of the diaphragm. Boundary conditions for the particles are set up as a circular particle release entrained in the flow field. Particles were released from 0.01m from the inlet to prevent any spurious data exiting the inlet upon immediate release. III. RESULT

Figure 1. The nasal-respiratory airway model used in divided into three regions for analysis of local deposition: i) nasal cavity; ii) pharynx and larynx and, iii) bronchial airway tree. Cross-sectional areas taken at the nasopharynx and hypopharynx are shown with the computational mesh.

B. Numerical procedure The commercial CFD code, Fluentv12.1 is used to simulate the steady inhalation at 15L/min. The steady-state continuity and momentum equations for the gas phase (air) in Cartesian tensor notation can be cast as:
∂ ρ g u ig = 0 ∂xi

A. Airflow patterns Figure 3 shows the streamlines coloured by velocity as they pass through the respiratory airway. In general the average velocity is around 1-2m/s in regions where there are no sudden changes in geometry. Peak velocities of up to 6m/s are found in the larynx area. In this region the cross-sectional area reduces to a small diameter, leading an acceleration of the inhaled air. Just after the larynx, the airway suddenly expands producing a positive pressure gradient. The flow velocity decreases significantly and complex flow patterns arise as the flow streamlines recover from the initial acceleration. This can be seen in Figure 2b which is a side view of the flow structures within the laryngeal region. It can be seen that the flow is directed anteriorly, and flow separation occurs at the larynx exit. Posterior to the bulk flow a complex recirculating region is found. This will have a significant effect on the transport of particles through this region.



 ∂u ig  ν g   ∂x  j  

ug j

∂u ig 1 ∂p g ∂ =− + ∂x j ρ ∂xi ∂x j


The equations were discretised with the QUICK scheme while the pressure-velocity coupling was resolved through the SIMPLE method. For a low volume fraction of dispersed phase (particles), the Lagrangian approach with one-way coupling is used, i.e. the airflow transports the particles, but the effect of particle movements on the flow is neglected. In this approach, the airflow field is first simulated, and then the trajectories of individual particles are tracked by integrating a force balance equation on the particle which can be written as:
g x (ρ p − ρ ) du i 18µ g C D Re p = (u g − u p ) + 2 dt 24 ρp ρ pd p




Figure 2. Flow streamlines in the (a) entire nasal-respiratory airway model. (b) Magnified side on view of flow streamlines passing through the larynx and (c) frontal view of the flow streamlines in the larynx.


where the first tem is the particle acceleration, the second term is the drag force [12], and the third term is the gravity term taken at per unit particle mass. Additional forces such as Saffman's lift force, thermophoretic force, and Brownian force are neglected for the micron sized particles. Particle rebounding from the surfaces was ignored and particle deposition was determined when the distance between the

B. Particle deposition patterns The Lagrangian particle tracking model is verified by checking the deposition efficiency in the nasal cavity region with existing data in the literature (Figure 3). It can be seen that the current model provides a similar general trend but underpredicts the deposition. The recent work by Shroeter et al. [13] has shown that the discrepancy may be caused by differences in the surface smoothness of the computational model.

transported through the nasal cavity. For example, the flow begins at the nostrils, vertically aligned.

Side View Frontal View a) 1µm particle deposition - Total deposition efficiency is 7%.

Figure 3. Particle deposition efficiency vs Inertial parameter in the nasal cavity comparisons with other experimental data.

The deposition fraction in each region (nasal cavity; pharynx and larynx; tracheobronchial airways) in Figure 4 shows that only particles ≤ 10µm persist deep into the respiratory airways from the pharynx and larynx region and further downstream. For all particles sizes tested, the highest regional deposition is found in the nasal cavity. However for 10µm particles where the total deposition efficiency for the entire model reaches 42.3%, a majority of particles are found to deposit in the pharynx and larynx region.

Side View Frontal View b) 20µm particle deposition pattern. Total deposition efficiency is 99%.

Figure 5. Particle deposition patterns for (a) 1µm particle and (b) 20µm particle for a flow rate of 15 L/min. Particles are coloured by velocity magnitude [m/s].


60% Entire model Nasal cavity 20% Pharynx & Larynx Tracheobronchial airway


0% 0 10 20 30 40 50 60

micron particle (µm)
Figure 4. Deposition fraction in the different regions of the respiratory airway and also the entire respiratory model.

The flow changes direction to a horizontal flow turning approximately 90o. This occurs again at the posterior end of the nasal cavity where the flow changes from horizontal to vertically down as it enters the pharyngeal region. Finally just before the larynx, where the airway decreases in cross-sectional area, the flow is accelerated which enhances the inertial impaction of the transported particle. The larynx is well known for its functionality in sound production which produced by the geometry which changes dramatically by first decreasing in cross sectional area, reaching a minimum before diverging and expanding in its cross-sectional area. This is typical of a converging-diverging nozzle which exhibits sharp pressure gradients, and rapid changes in velocities leading to complex flow patterns. Slice CC’ in Figure 6 is upstream to the larynx as the flow is about to accelerate due to the converging geometry which shows the streamlines directed from the posterior C’ to the anterior side C’ of the airway.

Visualisation of particle deposition patterns are performed for two distinctly different particle sizes, (1µm and 20µm) in terms of their inertial property. 1µm particles exhibit low inertia which means that they are able to follow the flow streamlines. This is evident in Figure 5a where the total deposition efficiency for the whole respiratory model is 7%. For the larger particle of 20µm there is a cluster of particles that deposit early, impacting at the roof immediately after the nostril opening (Figure 5b). Another cluster of particles are found at the posterior end of the nasal cavity, and a third cluster downstream just before the larynx. These locations appear in regions where the inhaled air changes direction as it is

Deposition fraction (%)

Figure 6. Velocity magnitude contours in [m/s] for slice CC’ superior or upstream to the larynx, and slice DD’ which is inferior or downstream of the larynx.

The bulk flow is centrally located on the slice with peak velocity values of approximately 4m/s. As the flow moves downstream, it accelerates and is directed anteriorly. Slice DD’ is located downstream of the larynx which shows that geometry has changed shape. The bulk flow is much more narrow and concentrated closer to the anterior side of the slice with higher peak velocities of up to 6m/s. These flow patterns transport the micron particles through the airway and this can be observed by introducing 1µm particles into the airway from the left nostril and right nostrils and comparing its relative positions. Figure 7 shows the particle locations as they pass through both slice CC’ and DD’. Particles released from the left nostril are concentrated towards the left side and similarly particles are concentrated on the right side when released from the right nostrils. After passing through the larynx the particles become more evenly distributed and towards the anterior side of slice DD’.

% of particles deposited in the airway, which means that a large percentage of particles still remain entrained in the flow field. This is significant as these particles persist in the deeper lung region. Finally the larynx was found to be a major source of complex flow phenomena which includes, reverse flow/recirculations, and increased mixing. This is attributed to the sharp pressure gradients produced by the convergingdiverging change in the flow geometry. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The financial support provided by the Australian Research Council (project ID LP0989452) and by the RMIT University through an Emerging Research Grant is gratefully acknowledged. REFERENCES
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(a) 1µm particle released from the left nostril


[7] [8]

(b) 1µm particle released from the right nostril
[9] Figure 7. Deposition patterns of 1µm and 20 µm at flow rate of 15 L/min. (density=1000 kg/m3)




Airflow streamlines through the respiratory airway showed that in general the average velocity was around 1-2m/s. Peak velocities of up to 6m/s were found in the larynx area. Micron particles were analysed to determine the level of particle deposition, and in particular the deposition fraction within region. Larger particles (i.e. ≥20µm) were not present in the tracheobronchial airway since a large percentage of deposition occurred in the nasal cavity. For 10µm particles a total of 42.3




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