If you do your best to take care of your lungs, they’ll make every effort to do right by you. Even when you’re resting, they transport oxygen into your bloodstream and move carbon dioxide out. They’re part of an intricate structure of organs and tissues that keeps your whole body running.
Your lungs plug away all day and every day. Inhaling 12 to 15 times a minute means 17,000 breaths a day. That’s more than six million breaths a year! Your lungs are one of your largest organs. Their area is roughly the same size as a tennis court, and their airways can add up to as many as 1,500 miles.
When you inhale, air moves down your throat, down your windpipe and into two main bronchial tubes that lead to each lung. These tubes then branch out into smaller passages called bronchioles, which deliver the air to small air sacs called alveoli. That’s where fresh oxygen from the air is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood.
You have a left lung and a right lung. The left one is slightly smaller because your heart needs the extra room. Each lung is divided into lobes, which are similar to balloons filled with sponge-like tissue. The left lung has two and the right lung has three. Each lobe receives air from its own branch of the bronchial tree, but they all have the same function: to bring oxygen into the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide. That’s why it’s possible (but not ideal) to live with one lung.
When you inhale, your lungs expand to hold the incoming air. “Lung capacity” refers to how much air they hold, and it varies with a person’s size, age, gender and respiratory health. An average adult man can hold about six liters. Every day, you breathe in just over 2,000 gallons of air, which is the amount needed to oxygenate about 2,000 gallons of blood that your heart pumps daily.
Lungs are constantly exposed to the external environment, so they need some protection from dust, germs and other unwanted matter. That’s when mucus is their friend. Your bronchial tubes are lined with cilia (akin to short thin hairs) that carry mucus into your throat to trap those icky intruders until they’re banished when you cough, sneeze, clear your throat or swallow. Your diaphragm, a dome-shaped wall of muscle, does the yeoman’s work by expanding and contracting the chest to draw air in and out of your lungs.
Your lungs are nice to you, so be nice to them by exercising, getting regular checkups, not smoking, and avoiding exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants. If you’d like to book a routine checkup or have any other questions or concerns about your lung health, please give us a call 973-987-6771.
By North Jersey Pulmonary Associates
October 26, 2020