What are the lungs?
The lungs are the organs involved in breathing.
Breathing is air going in and out of your lungs
You get oxygen when you breathe in (inhale) and get rid of carbon dioxide when you breath out (exhale)
All the cells Cells Cells are the basic building blocks of the body. All tissues and organs are made of billions of different cells. Human cells vary in size, but all are quite small. Even the largest, a fertilized... read more in your body need oxygen to turn food into energy. The process of turning food into energy creates waste in the form of carbon dioxide, which must be released from your body.
You have 2 lungs in your chest, surrounded by your rib cage. Air comes into your lungs through your windpipe, also called the trachea. The windpipe divides into smaller airways called bronchi. Like branches of a tree, bronchi divide into even smaller airways called bronchioles. The bronchioles end in millions of very tiny air sacs called alveoli.
Your airways are lined with very tiny hairs. Your airways also make mucus that coats their lining. Together, the hairs and mucus filter and trap dust and germs so they don't get into your lungs. A little flap called the epiglottis keeps food out of your windpipe when you swallow.
Inside the Lungs and Airways
How does breathing work?
The average adult breathes about 15 times each minute while resting. A moderately active person breathes 5,000 gallons (almost 20,000 liters) of air every 24 hours.
Your brain automatically sends messages for you to breathe, even when you're asleep or passed out.
Your brain monitors the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and acid in your blood
These levels determine how fast and deep your brain makes you breathe
Your brain sends signals to your rib and diaphragm muscles to make you breathe. To inhale, muscles between your ribs contract and your diaphragm contracts. Your diaphragm is a big, flat muscle that separates your chest and belly. Your lungs don't have muscles of their own.
Contraction of your rib and diaphragm muscles expands your chest and pulls air in
When these muscles relax, your chest gets smaller and you exhale
Diaphragm’s Role in Breathing
When the diaphragm contracts and moves lower, the chest cavity enlarges, reducing the pressure inside the lungs. To equalize the pressure, air enters the lungs. When the diaphragm relaxes and moves back up, the elasticity of the lungs and chest wall pushes air out of the lungs.
What happens to air in the lungs?
Your lungs contain tiny air sacs called alveoli. Blood flows through the walls of the air sacs and picks up oxygen from the air in the sacs. At the same time, carbon dioxide leaves your blood and goes into the air sacs. The carbon dioxide then can leave your body when you exhale.
All the blood in your body passes through your lungs every minute or so. That means the lungs need lots of large blood vessels.
Gas Exchange Between Alveolar Spaces and Capillaries
The function of the respiratory system is to move two gases: oxygen and carbon dioxide. Gas exchange takes place in the millions of alveoli in the lungs and the capillaries that envelop them. As shown below, inhaled oxygen moves from the alveoli to the blood in the capillaries, and carbon dioxide moves from the blood in the capillaries to the air in the alveoli.
What can go wrong with your lungs and breathing?
Problems that involve your brain, like a stroke Stroke A stroke is a sudden brain problem that happens when a blood vessel in your brain either gets blocked or breaks open and bleeds. As with all organs in the body, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients... read more , drug overdose, or extreme alcohol intoxication, can interfere with the part of your brain that controls breathing. These problems can make you breathe too slowly or even stop breathing.
Your airways and lungs can become infected, resulting in bronchitis Acute Bronchitis Your bronchi are the tubes that carry air into your lungs. Bronchitis is when the bronchi become swollen and irritated. Acute bronchitis starts suddenly, usually over a few days. Acute bronchitis... read more , bronchiolitis Bronchiolitis Bronchiolitis is inflammation of the small airways in the lungs in babies and children under 2 years old. The inflammation makes it hard for them to breathe. Bronchiolitis is caused by an infection... read more , or pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more , depending on where the infection is. Pneumonia is infection in the alveoli.
The airways can become narrowed by asthma Asthma Asthma is a condition in which the breathing passages (airways) in your lungs get narrow. When the airways are narrow, it's hard to breathe. Breathing often makes a squeaky sound called wheezing... read more or blocked by a foreign body such as a piece of food.
Blood vessels inside your lungs can be blocked by blood clots, called a pulmonary embolism Pulmonary Embolism (PE) A pulmonary embolism is a clump of material (usually a blood clot) that gets stuck while moving through your bloodstream and blocks a blood vessel in your lungs. A pulmonary embolism blocks... read more .