Air pollution is a growing problem. Learning about lung functions can help us understand how to keep them strong and healthy.
So how do they work? Let's put it in simple terms.
Take a deep breath and picture this. You take in air through your nose (or mouth) and down the trachea (windpipe).
From there it travels into a series of branches in your lungs, called bronchi. The bronchi branches get smaller and smaller and turn into aveoli, which look like little grape-like sacs.
These fragile sacs are where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.
During an inhale, the aveoli fill their sacs with oxygen. The capillaries (small blood vessels) in the aveoli allow the red blood cells to pick up oxygen molecules while carbon dioxide is released back into the lungs from the veins.
During an exhale, the carbon dioxide takes the reverse path out of your lungs and you expel the unwanted gas through your nose or mouth.
When we breath in toxic chemicals, they can go directly into our bloodstream. Or damage the cells lining our airways - like ozone, that inflames our airways like a bad sunburn.
When we breathe in particulate matter, other health issues are a concern.
Larger particulates can consist of smoke, mold, spores, pollen, and dirt and dust from factories, farming, and roads. When we breathe these in they stick to the bronchi, making it more difficult to get the oxygen we need.
To try and get rid of the particulates, lung cleansing processes produce mucous so we can attempt to cough them out or swallow them.
Smaller particulates are even worse for our lungs. They can consist of heavy metals and toxic organic compounds. Their smaller size makes it easy for them to get lodged deep into our lungs.
If the particles get very deep, special cells trap them there and it is very difficult to get them out. If they stay trapped, breathing difficulties and lung disease will result. And each lung functions at less and less capacity.