Your lungs are part of the respiratory system. The main job of the lungs and the respiratory system is to give your body oxygen and move waste products, such as carbon dioxide, out of your body. This happens when you breathe. This process is called respiration.
When you breathe in, air enters your lungs. Your lungs move oxygen from the air into your bloodstream. The bloodstream carries the oxygen to every cell in your body. It also picks up carbon dioxide from the cells and carries it back to the lungs. When you breathe out, you push the carbon dioxide out of your lungs and your body.
Breathing is automatic. Your body adjusts when you need more or less oxygen. There are sensors in your brain that know when you need more oxygen or less carbon dioxide in your blood and cause you to breathe harder.
Your lungs do more than move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of the body. They also act as filters. Mucus in your lungs catches and holds dust, germs, and other things that have entered the lungs. When you cough, sneeze, or clear your throat, you move this material out of your body.
Your lungs are different from many other organs because they are in contact with the outside world. You may breathe in dust, pollen, viruses, bacteria, cigarette smoke, air pollution, and exhaust fumes. Anything you breathe in can harm how well your lungs work and can make breathing harder and a lung problem more likely.
If you have a lung disease, what you breathe in can suddenly make symptoms worse. For example, breathing in cigarette smoke can cause an asthma attack or a COPD flare-up.
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Current as of: December 6, 2017
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
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