The lungs are the main organs responsible for the breathing process; Together, with the trachea, bronchi, larynx, pharynx, and other organs, they make up the respiratory system. In this sense, the lungs serve to allow the passage of air and, consequently, oxygen to the bloodstream, so that the cells can obtain the substances necessary to carry out their functions.

Lung function

The lungs are organs located in the thoracic cavity, their main function is related to the entry of air into the body and the transformation of oxygen into carbon dioxide. Likewise, it fulfills other functions of vital importance for the organism of humans and animals.

Among the functions performed by the lungs, the following may be mentioned:

Breathing

The main function of the lungs is to carry out the breathing process, it is here, where the body takes in oxygen from the air, necessary for its operation and releases carbon dioxide. In this sense, the process carried out by the lungs during respiration is called pulmonary ventilation and consists of two phases, inhalation and expiration.

First, the lungs expand to receive the oxygen-containing air, once the oxygen reaches the bloodstream through the capillaries, the second phase of the process occurs. On expiration (second phase of the process), the lungs relax and expel the air that this time will be laden with carbon dioxide. In this way, the process is carried out about 12 times per minute, although this is something that can vary, depending on the physical activity that the person is doing.

Filtration

The lungs also perform non-respiratory functions, including filtering the air that enters through inhalation; For this, there are small hairs ( cilia ) that retain the polluting particles and prevent them from reaching the alveoli of the lungs.

Once the foreign fragments are trapped, they must be expelled from the body, for this purpose, there are two mechanisms, the sneeze that occurs in the nose and the cough that takes place in the windpipe.

Metabolic functions

In addition to filtering, other non-respiratory functions performed by the lungs are metabolic in nature. One of them is the uptake of certain essential substances for the body, such as adrenaline.

Likewise, the cells located in the lungs develop a metabolic function, related to the transformation of the enzyme angiotensin, which contributes to the maintenance of normal levels of electrolytes and blood pressure.

Finally, it must be emphasized that the entire cardiac process is supported by the lungs, since most of the blood is processed in the lung cells.

Drug absorption

There are several ways to administer drugs (oral, rectal, intramuscular, topical) and also via the lung. An example of this are nebulizers and oxygen masks, which send pharmacological substances directly to the lungs.

For this, the drugs enter the body through inhalation and later, reach the lungs, where they are absorbed more quickly than in other organs, consequently, lower doses can be used for an effective treatment.

Anatomy of the lungs

The lungs are organs of the respiratory system, which present a pinkish color in infants and grayish in adults, in addition, the weight and size vary according to the sex and weight of each person.

In this sense, the lungs are divided into right and left, the first of which is made up of three lobes; For its part, the left one has only two lobes due to the space occupied by the heart (it is important to mention that lobes are understood as the parts of the lung through which oxygen enters). On the other hand, each of the lungs is connected to the trachea through bronchi, and it is there, where the process of exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place, from the alveoli to the capillaries.

Structure of the lungs

The respiratory system is made up first of all by the lungs, which are located in the thoracic cavity, separated by the mediastinum and covered by a membrane known as the pleura. Likewise, these organs have various structures that make it possible to carry out all the required functions. In this sense, the lungs are shaped as follows:

alveoli

The lungs have millions of alveoli, which are capillary vessels with the shape of sacs, covered by a membrane or capillary wall and made up of connective tissue.

The function of these structures is to allow the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide; in this way, the alveoli pass oxygen into the blood and the expulsion of carbon dioxide.

Bronchioles

The bronchioles are subdivisions of the bronchi, which in turn reach the alveoli; they are the second step in the breathing process. In other words, the air enters the lungs through the bronchi and from these, the bronchioles, and finally, it reaches the alveoli; likewise, it occurs in the process of expiration.

Bronchi

The bronchi are branches that originate in the trachea and reach each of the lungs; its structure is similar to that of a tree, since each bronchus is subdivided into small branches (bronchioles).

In this order of ideas, the right lung bronchus is divided into three lobes, while the left lung bronchus is only divided into two lobes (lower and upper).

Lobes

The lobes are the divisions that each one of the lungs presents, and that are formed from fissures; In this case, the left lung has two lobes and the right has three.

In turn, the function of the lobes is to contain the respiratory process and gas exchange (oxygen and carbon dioxide) between the capillaries and the alveoli.

Pleura

The pleura is the membrane that covers the lungs and protects them from friction with the chest cavity. This membrane is made up of connective tissue or mucosa, and covers the entire lung surface.

For its part, there are two types of pleura, the parietal pleura and the visceral. The first one is the outer layer that lines the inside of the thoracic cavity, in addition to separating both lungs. On the other hand, the visceral pleura is the one that covers the surface of the lungs; It should be noted that between both pleurae there is a liquid that makes the expansion of the lungs possible during expiration.

Lung diseases

Pulmonary conditions can be divided into three types, according to the structure they affect, these are those related to the airways, lung tissue or pulmonary circulation.

In the first place, diseases of the respiratory tract are those in which they are obstructed and hinder the passage of air and oxygen to the lungs, examples of which are: asthma, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, among others.

On the other hand, the lung tissue can also be affected, generating diseases such as sarcoidosis or cystic fibrosis, in which the inflamed lung tissue does not allow the lungs to function properly.

Lastly, pulmonary circulation diseases affect the blood vessels in the lungs and cause conditions such as pulmonary hypertension.

In turn, there are lung diseases that can involve the three types of previous conditions, among them the following stand out:

  • Lung cancer.
  • Tuberculosis (infectious and contagious disease).
  • Pneumothorax or atelectasis (partial or total collapse of the lungs).
  • Pulmonary edema or emphysema (accumulation of fluid in the lungs).
  • Pulmonary embolus (blockage of pulmonary arteries).
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Importance of the lungs

The lungs are organs of vital importance for mammals, since the breathing process depends largely on them. In this sense, thanks to the functioning of the lungs, it is possible that all the cells of the organism can carry out their activities, this due to the oxygen obtained during the inhalation of air. It is necessary to highlight the importance of taking care of the lungs, avoiding vices such as smoking, which affect their structure and pathophysiology.

Finally, it is recommended to maintain healthy lifestyle habits, in addition, to consult the doctor periodically, in order to avoid possible lung diseases and conditions.

Conclusion: Are the lungs of vital importance for life?

The lungs are large organs and responsible for one of the basic survival processes of mammals, respiration; in turn, they function as a filter, which prevents the passage of toxic substances into the body. In addition to this, the lungs serve to absorb and remove drugs from the body, especially anesthetics, pain relievers, and gases such as oxygen. For all these aspects, it can be said that the lungs are essential for life and therefore, they must always be taken care of.

Samantha Robson
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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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