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How your lungs work

How your lungs work

We use our lungs to breathe; the single most crucial function to stay alive. Each human has two lungs, located on either side of the body. This means that there is one of the left and one of the right. The lungs are a significant part of the respiratory system. Many diseases can affect the lungs. The latest threat to the lungs is the coronavirus, COVID-19.

What is the respiratory system?

The respiratory system is the group of organs in the body that facilitate breathing. It includes the nose, mouth, the throat and the windpipe as the airways. The respiratory system also consists of the lungs and blood vessels as well as muscles and bones.

The airways facilitate the breathing process to take air into the body. People mostly breathe in through the nose. Once the whole breath has travelled through the entire system and the oxygen has been taken to the various parts of the body that need it, it exits through the mouth and nose as carbon dioxide. The nose hairs are there to clean the air of any debris as it enters the body. When you breathe through your mouth, you forego this precaution. Mouth-breathing should be used as a last resort for when the nose is blocked.

The sinuses also play a huge role in getting the air to the lungs. The American Lung Association explains that sinuses are hollow spaces in the bones of your head above and below your eyes. These bones are connected to your nose by small openings. Sinuses help regulate the temperature and humidity of inhaled air.

The throat is a passage to move the air to the windpipe. The windpipe is connected to the lungs by bronchial tubes.

This is when the air enters the many bronchioles in the lobes of your lungs.

Your lungs aren’t identical, believe it or not!

The left lung has two sections, and the right lung has three. The parts of the lung are called lobes. The lobes are encompassed by the pleura, a membrane that separates the lung from the chest wall. The entire system is very intricate.

Your bronchial tubes are lined with cilia, which are small hairs that filter out the debris, just like in the nose.

It moves the gunk upward and out into your throat to be either expelled or swallowed.

The smallest branches of the bronchial tubes are bronchioles, which are found at the end of the air sacs or alveoli (the tiny air sacs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place).

Capillaries are blood vessels in the walls of the alveoli. Blood passes through the capillaries, entering through your pulmonary artery and leaving via your pulmonary vein. While in the capillaries, the blood gives off carbon dioxide through the capillary wall into the alveoli. It then takes up oxygen from the air in the alveoli.

There are more than six hundred million alveoli in an adult’s lung, says Vitality Medical. The oxygen then passes into the bloodstream.

Why is air necessary?

Air feeds each system in the body. The brain, heart and other organs need oxygen to function. Oxygen is literally the fuel used to power the body. When the oxygen enters the respiratory system, it is transported to the cells of the human body.

Our cells consolidate oxygen with nitrogen and hydrogen to create different proteins that construct new cells. Consistently, around 700 billion cells in our bodies wear out and should be regenerated. Without oxygen, our bodies can’t build these new cells.


How does COVID-19 affect the lungs?

COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that mainly attacks the respiratory system, including the lungs. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is part of the coronavirus family.

First assumed to be a type of aggressive pneumonia, COVID-19 hampers breathing, making it difficult to get oxygen into the body and to the lungs and other organs.

When the infection travels to your respiratory tract, your immune system fights back, explains WebMD. Your lungs and airways become inflamed. This inflammation can start in one part of your lung and spread all over. Some people also develop pneumonia, a lung infection in which the alveoli are inflamed.


How do I keep my lungs healthy?

A healthy lifestyle is paramount to keeping your organs healthy. Smoking is particularly damaging to the lungs. In South Africa, smoking has been prohibited for the duration of the national COVID-19 lockdown as a direct precaution to prevent the spreading of the disease and to improve the capacity for people’s lungs to combat the disease once infected. Passive/second-hand smoking is also detrimental to your health.

Many exercises can also increase lung capacity. Your lung capacity is the total amount of air that your lungs can hold. It turns out that people’s lung capacity and lung function typically decrease as we age.

Healthline suggests diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale through your nose for two seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out. Your stomach should move more than your chest does.

Breathe out for two seconds through pursed lips while pressing on your abdomen.


Having health insurance helps you stay healthy and gives you the option of getting medical care, at any time. This is why Affinity Health aims to make affordable healthcare available to all South Africans with healthcare plans designed to suit people’s health and financial needs. Affinity Health is passionate about quality healthcare. Using special expertise to create a range of options, including Day-to-Day and Hospital plans.

Health insurance, if anything, offers you peace of mind.

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