The center of the respiratory system are lungs. All cells in the body need oxygen to stay alive and they also need to remove carbon dioxide. This is a gas that is produced by the body during normal daily functions. The lungs exchange these gases each time a person breathes in and out.


These organs look like two cones that are upside-down in the chest. The right lung consists of three lobes and the left lung has two lobes because it makes room for the heart.

Bronchial Tree

At the bottom of the trachea the lungs begin. A tube that helps to carry air in and out of the lungs is called the trachea and it is connected with the lungs by a bronchus. Therefore, the bronchi and trachea form the bronchial tree.

Additionally, the bronchi are also divided into other small tubes (known as bronchioles). An individual has approximately 30,000 bronchioles in each lung and some of them are so small that are compared with the thickness of a hair.

Furthermore, each bronchiole tube ends with certain small air sacs called alveoli. They look like small grape brunches or very tiny balloons. The lungs contain approximately 600 million alveoli and the size of each is almost that of a tennis court.

Respiratory System

The primary part of the respiratory system are lungs. However, it is divided into two parts including the upper respiratory tract and the lower respiratory tract. Check below what includes the upper respiratory tract:

  • Mouth and nose – Through the nose nostrils and mouth the air enters and leaves the lungs.
  • Nasal cavity – The nasal cavity is the place where air passes from the nose and then to the lungs.
  • Throat (pharynx) – The air passes to the lungs through the throat.
  • Voice box (larynx) – This part of the respiratory system helps air to pass into the lungs while keeping away foods and drinks.

The lower respiratory tract includes:

  • Lungs
  • Trachea (windpipe)
  • Bronchi
  • Bronchioles
  • Alveoli

There are certain parts of the respiratory system that help the lungs to expand and contract while breathing. These include ribs around the lungs and the diaphragm (a dome-shaped organ muscle).

How Do The Lungs Work?

First, the air enters the nose or mouth. After that, it travels to the trachea through the throat and then into the lungs via the left and right primary bronchi. Thereafter, it goes to small bronchi and then into the smaller bronchiole tubes, and finally reaches alveoli.

The heart sends blood with carbon dioxide to the lungs. Therefore, the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen happens in the alveoli. They are covered with capillaries (small blood vessels). As a result, the blood rich with oxygen goes through capillaries back to the heart. After that, it is pumped into the whole body.

In addition, the alveoli remain open even when an individual exhales because they make a substance that helps them stay open. Furthermore, they are self-cleaning and produce mucus to trap particles and germs entering the lungs. Usually, people swallow this mucus without paying attention. However, if the lungs are producing too much mucus, it may be a symptom of a respiratory condition.

Lung Disorders

These disorders can happen to anyone and they can be temporary or chronic (long-term). Check below some examples:


This is considered one of the most common chronic conditions of the lungs. It usually starts in childhood and when a person experiences an asthma attack the airways narrow and slow down the air flow. Moreover, the lungs also become inflamed and swollen. Commonly, an asthma attack is triggered by an allergic reaction, pollution, exercise, respiratory conditions, cold air, and others.


The most common causes of bronchitis are bacterial or viral infections. This condition occurs in the bronchi. Some people may experience acute bronchitis that occurs suddenly and can spread to the lungs from a respiratory tract infection (including the common cold).

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Emphysema or chronic bronchitis are other names for COPD. Not treating this condition can get worse over time. The main COPD causes include air pollution, chemicals, smoking, or a genetic disorder. In addition, COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.


This condition can happen in anyone and young children, older people, smokers, and those with certain health conditions are at higher risk of developing pneumonia. The infection affects bronchioles and alveoli. Thus, the mucus and pus build up in the lungs.


It is a bacterial infection that spreads through air droplets from sneezes and coughs. Although it is difficult to get infected this is a serious condition that can lead to lung scarring. Some people can have this infection in the body but without any symptoms.


The lung conditions are quite serious because some of them can make it difficult to breathe. Check below some primary lung disease causes:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Mold (fungus)
  • Chemicals
  • Air pollution
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Allergies (including pollen, dust, food allergens, pet dander, fur, insect waste, and others)
  • Tobacco use


In case you experience any of the following symptoms, immediately visit a doctor. Examples include:

  • Cough that lasts for at least a month
  • Noisy breathing or wheezing
  • Breathing problems
  • Chronic sputum or mucus
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain that lasts for at least a month


Check below some tests that doctors perform to diagnose lung diseases:

  • Blood tests
  • Chests X-ray
  • Arterial blood gas tests
  • Exhaled nitric oxide test
  • Lung diffusion capacity
  • Pulse oximetry
  • Spirometry
  • Sputum or mucus sample


Treatments usually are different among people because depends on the type of lung condition, the severity of the disease, other existing health conditions, your age, and others. Check below some treatment methods that doctors usually prescribe:

  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-viral and anti-fungal medicines
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines
  • Inhaled bronchodilators
  • Immune system medications
  • Heartburn (GERD) drugs
  • Synthetic surfactant medicines
  • Asthma medications (including beta-agonists and anticholinergics)

Never administer medications used to treat lung diseases without a doctor’s recommendation because it may lead to unpleasant outcomes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to keep the lungs healthy?

The following tips can help you to prevent or avoid lung conditions. Examples include:

  • Check the home for mold
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
  • Regular exercise (including jogging and walking)
  • It is advised to receive vaccines against flu, pneumonia, asthma, and others
  • Regularly wash your hands with water and soap
  • You should also brush your teeth at least twice daily

What are the most common lung issues?

  • COPD
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Lung cancer
  • Asthma
  • Pneumothorax or atelectasis

If you suspect you experience a lung disorder, contact your doctor right away.

What is the primary lung function?

The exchange of the gas is called respiration or breathing. It helps to get rid of carbon dioxide and get oxygen. When we hear about decreased lung function, it means the ability of the lungs to remove waste and carbon dioxide from the blood. Ask your physician if you have additional questions.

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