Inhaling and exhaling. Simple, right? It’s something that we do every day, every waking minute. It relaxes us, wakes us up and, most importantly, keeps us alive.
The lungs are part of the respiratory system, made up of organs and tissues that work together to help you breathe, states the American Lung Association. Its main job? To move fresh air and oxygen into the body while removing waste gases.
Let’s get technical for a minute. To survive, every cell in the body needs oxygen. The air around us contains oxygen, among other gases. As we breathe, we intake the air and the oxygen is moved to the bloodstream and transported throughout the body. The blood carries the oxygen that touches each cell of the body. As it interacts with the cells, oxygen is exchanged for the gas waste carbon dioxide. The blood then carries the waste gas back to the lungs where it is removed from the blood stream and exhaled.
This gas exchange happens automatically and is vital process for the body. Cool, huh?
But that’s not all! The respiratory system has other roles important to breathing which include:
- Warming or cooling air to the appropriate body temperature and moisturizing it to the right humidity level
- Protecting the body from harmful substances through coughing, sneezing, filtering or swallowing them
- Supporting the sense of smell
How the Parts of the Respiratory System Work
There are many parts to the respiratory system. The American Lung Association lists them out as follows.
- Sinuses: These are the hollow spaces in the bones of the head, above and below the eyes that are connected to the nose by small openings. They help regulate temperature and humidity of the inhaled air.
- Nose: Got your nose! This is the preferred entrance for outside air into the respiratory system. The hairs lining the inside of the nose are part of the air-cleaning system.
- Mouth: Air also enters through your mouth, especially for those who may have a stuffy nose due to a cold or allergies.
- Throat: is the channel through which air from the nose and mouth are collected and is passed down to the windpipe, also known as the trachea.
- Windpipe: Also, known as the trachea, this is the passage leading from your throat to your lungs.
- Bronchial Tubes: the windpipe divides into the two main bronchial tubes that lead to each lung, which divide again into each lobe of the lungs. These continue to split into bronchioles.
There are also a variety of blood vessels that help the lungs function correctly.
- Lobes: The right lung is divided into three lobes, or sections, while the left lung is divided into two lobes. Each lobe is like a balloon and is filled with sponge-like tissue, states the ALA website. Air then moves in and out through one opening, which is a branch of the bronchial tube.
- Pleura: These are two membranes that surround each lobe of the lungs and separate the lungs from the chest wall.
- Cilia: These very small hairs that line the bronchial tubes, move like waves. The motion carries mucus upward and out into the throat where it can be disposed, either by being coughed up or swallowed. Mucus collects much of the dust, germs and other matter that invades the lungs. The body rids itself of these through coughing, sneezing, clearing the throat or swallowing.
- Bronchioles: the smallest branches of the bronchial tubes are the bronchioles. The alveoli, or air sacs, can be found at the end of the bronchioles, and are the destination of breathed-in air.
Lastly, you have muscles and bones that help your respiratory system as well.
- Diaphragm: This is a strong wall of muscle that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. When you breathe, it moves downward, creating suction in the chest, drawing in air and expanding the lungs.
- Ribs: The ribs are the bones that support and protect the chest cavity. In order for your lungs to expand and contract, these bones move slightly.
It’s known that as you age, the lungs lose capacity. This is why it’s important to prioritize lung health and not take it for granted. Below are some tips as to how you can keep your lungs healthy and in shape over time.
- Don’t Smoke: It’s been said time and time again—cigarette smoke is the major cause of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Cigarette smoke causes chronic inflammation, or swelling in the lung, which leads to chronic bronchitis. With time, the smoke will destroy lung tissue and may even lead to cancer. It’s never too late to quit.
- Avoid exposure to pollutants: Among the list of pollutants include outdoor air pollution, chemicals used at home or in the workplace and radon can all cause or worsen lung disease. Aim to make your home and car smoke free. Avoid exercising outdoors on bad air days. Test your home for radon.
- Prevent illness and infection: No one likes to get sick. Take the appropriate precaution as you normally would to protect yourself from colds or other respiratory infections.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Use alcohol-based cleaners work as a substitute if you don’t have access to a sink.
- Get vaccinated against the flu. Talk to your doctor to find out if the pneumonia vaccine is right for you.
- If you get sick, stay home! Help to protect the people around you by keeping your distance.
- Good oral hygiene may also protect germs in the mouth from developing into infections. Brush those chompers at least twice a day!
- Get regular checkups! Even if you aren’t sick, regular annual wellness checkups can help to prevent serious diseases. This is true for lung disease that usually goes undetected until serious symptoms arise. During checkups, the doctors or providers will listen to your lungs and breathing, addressing any concerns you may have.
- Exercise: Getting physical activity is good for your overall health. Exercise helps to improve lung capacity and doing breathing exercises are also beneficial for improving moods and help to relax.