Essential to every process in our body, our lungs fuel us with life-giving oxygen. Each of our cells, organs and tissues relies on our lungs to get oxygen to them via the bloodstream.
Just as getting oxygen from the air is vital, the need to exhale carbon dioxide is equally so. This natural mechanism is controlled by the brain and carried out mainly by the diaphragm. As the lungs are organs that come into contact with the air we breathe – unlike most other organs – they’re prone to specific conditions and disorders.
Each lung houses a series of inter-connected tubes and is comprised of sections known as lobes. Interestingly, left and right lungs are different – the right lung has three lobes instead of two lobes (as in the left lung) and is slightly larger.
The many roles of the Lungs
Not only do lungs provide us with the requisite of life – oxygen; they're also involved in other important functions in the body. Filtering out small blood clots, helping to regulate the pH balance in the blood, producing Immunoglobulin-A (which defends the body respiratory infections), creating mucus with antimicrobial properties, and even our ability to speak is affected by our lungs.
As our lungs are complex structures that are pivotal to our wellbeing, any disease or respiratory problem will have a direct impact on our overall health.
Lungs conditions and respiratory problems
Everything from having asthma, a cold or flu, to pneumonia and lung cancer can be classed as lung conditions or diseases.
Respiratory Tract Infections or RTIs are common and ordinarily affect the lungs, throat, airways or sinuses. Divided into upper and lower respiratory tract, RTIs of the upper respiratory tract are usually colds, but could be tonsillitis, sinusitis, flu or laryngitis. Lower RTIs can include more serious diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and bronchitis. If the symptoms of coughing, weakness, over-mucus production and general feelings of ill-health persist, then a doctor needs to be consulted.
COPD is a name given to a variety of diseases that affect lungs and airways. Standing for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD is characterised by inflammation in the airways and lungs. When inflammation persists, changes to the tissue of the affected area occur and can’t be reversed. Symptoms of COPD include breathlessness, stubborn coughing and chest infections. Like Emphysema and lung cancer, the main cause is smoking.
Of all cancers, lung cancer is one of the biggest killers. The symptoms are not always easy to spot, but if detected - continual tiredness, a chronic cough, chest pain, etc., it’s usually treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.
Looking after our Lungs
We can’t mitigate for colds and flu being passed on to us through airborne droplets of infected saliva, or genetic predispositions affecting our respiratory tract. However, we can do our best to lead a healthy lifestyle – getting plenty of fresh air, avoiding polluted environments where possible, eating a balanced diet, take regular exercise and very importantly, by not smoking, we give our lungs and every cell in our body the best chance of staying healthy.
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