18 Jun, 2024

Lesa Maginn
Lesa Maginn

What do your lungs do?

Your lungs are part of your respiratory system. You need oxygen so that your body can turn food into energy, which is needed for growth, repair, and movement. Your lungs take in oxygen from the air you breathe in and move it into your bloodstream, so that it is delivered to every part of your body.

When your body produces energy, it also makes a gas called carbon dioxide as a waste product. This is also released into the bloodstream; your lungs then get rid of this waste gas when you breathe out.

Five facts about your lungs: 

  1. You can live with one lung! Although it can limit your physical ability, it doesn’t have to stop you from living a relatively normal life. Many people around the world live with just one lung.

  2. An average person breathes in around 11,000 litres of air every day.

  3. Humans each exhale up to 17.5 millilitres of water per hour.

  4. The right lung is bigger than the left lung and the total surface area of both the lungs is around 80 sq. m, which is roughly equal to the size of a tennis court.

  5. The lungs are the only organs in the human body that are capable of floating on water.

How can I protect my lungs?

There are lots of things you can do to help protect your lungs:

Stop smoking – If you smoke, stopping smoking is the best thing you can do for your lungs and your overall health.

Keeping active – Regular physical activity strengthens your lungs and muscles so they work more efficiently. If you have a lung condition, keeping active can help reduce your symptoms and increase your quality of life.

Eating well and maintaining a healthy weight – Eating well can help your muscles and immune system stay strong. It can also help to keep your lungs healthy by preventing chest infections. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight as being overweight or underweight can make it harder for your lungs and respiratory system to work properly.

Avoiding pollution – Air pollution is harmful to your lungs and airways; it can cause irritation and make it harder to breathe. Being exposed to air pollution over a long period of time increases your risk of developing lung conditions. Indoor air pollution, whether at home or work, can also cause lung problems like infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If you are living with a lung condition: 

If you have been diagnosed with a lung condition or disease, there is a lot of advice, support, and information available from organisations such as Asthma and Lung UK and the NHS.

You may need to make some changes to your lifestyle, and you may need to be more aware of your physical environment and the affect it can have on your lungs, for example: 

  • Hot weather can make asthma and other lung condition symptoms worse.

  • Cold weather can worsen the symptoms of your lung condition and increase your risk of becoming unwell.

  • High air pollution can irritate your airways and increase your lung symptoms.

  • Indoor air pollution caused by aerosols, scented candles and wood burning stoves for example can also irritate your airways and increase your lung symptoms.

If you are worried about your lungs see your GP or call 111 if you have any concerns about your lung health.

Some symptoms that may indicate a problem with your lungs can include:

  • A cough that does not go away after three weeks.

  • An existing cough that changes or gets worse.

  • A cough that brings up sputum (also called mucus or phlegm).

  • A wheeze or tightness in the chest.

  • Being short of breath a lot.

  • Coughing up blood.

If you are aged between 55 and 74 and have ever smoked, you may be offered an NHS lung health check, you can find out more information about NHS lung health checks here.