Lungs and respiratory system: anatomy

Those who are healthy breathe automatically - without thinking about what the lungs are doing. Here you will find information on the structure and function of the airways

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Without really realizing it, adult, healthy people breathe at rest about 12 to 16 times per minute. Each time around half a liter of air flows through the airways into the lungs and back out again.

Video: Structure and location of the lungs

Doctors refer to all parts of the body through which air flows when inhaling and exhaling as respiratory tract: the air passes through the mouth and nose via the throat and into the windpipe. The windpipe lies behind the breastbone and divides in the chest into a left and a right main bronchus. Together with the respective pulmonary vessels, these lead to the left or right lung.

The lungs (Latin: pulmo) are designed in pairs. Each of the two lungs is supplied by its own vessels and, with the respective main bronchus, also has its own air supply, which enters the lungs together with the veins and arteries at the so-called pulmonary hilus. The left lung is slightly smaller than the right and only consists of two instead of three lung lobes, since the heart is located near it and there is less space available to it. Each main bronchus divides into so-called lobe bronchi according to the number of lung lobes and then branches further into segment bronchi and ever smaller bronchi and bronchioli, until the small alveoli are at the end.

They are the place where the lungs perform their most important function, gas exchange, and give the lung tissue its spongy appearance.

The right lung has three lobes, the left two. The gas exchange takes place in the alveoli (enlarged section)

© Your Photo Today / A1Pix

What is the role of the lungs and the airways?

The airways not only carry the air into the lungs, cilia on their walls also clean the air. Foreign bodies such as bacteria and dust particles get stuck in it and are transported towards the throat together with the mucus lying on the cilia. It is then either swallowed unnoticed or - for example, if the cilia can no longer carry it out - coughed up.

The most important task of the lungs is gas exchange. Since our body needs a lot of oxygen and has to excrete corresponding amounts of carbon dioxide, a large area is necessary for this. These are provided by the alveoli. They have particularly thin walls that almost directly border the blood vessels. This makes it possible for the oxygen from the breathing air to pass through these walls into the oxygen-poor blood of the pulmonary vessels, while the carbon dioxide from the blood reaches the alveoli.

In the alveoli, the oxygen-poor blood is again enriched with the vital substance

© ddp Images GmbH / Picture Press / Wissenmedia

If the lungs become ill, it can hinder breathing and even have life-threatening consequences. It is not for nothing that lung and bronchial cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and pneumonia are among the ten most common causes of death in Germany. One of the most important risk factors for lung disease is smoking. Tobacco smoke not only promotes the development of malignant diseases such as lung cancer, but also damages the cilia that transport mucus and pathogens outside. This increases the risk of infections. Certain lung diseases such as chronic obstructive bronchitis (COPD) are very often the result of long-term smoking. If you want to do something good for your lungs, you should avoid cigarettes and similar tobacco products.

Subject lungs

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