The Lungs

By: Hannah Babin


The lungs are components of the power source for speaking. Your lungs are non-muscular, cone-shaped, spongy sacs which fill the chest cavity, serve as storage areas for air. At the top of your chest, the lungs are attached to your windpipe and at the bottom of each lung is in contact with your diaphragm's upper surface. They are not capable of inflating and deflating by themselves but they respond to muscular and gravity pressures surrounding them. When you inhale, the diaphragm contracts, pulls down and forward and creates a vacuum which causes your lungs to begin fillings with air received through the nose or mouth. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and moves upward, allowing the digestive organs to push upward as the decreasing pressure in the lungs equalize with the outside air.

The lungs are not just storage areas for air. The lungs also act as filtering mechanisms for purifying your blood, exchanging oxygen from the air during inhalation for carbon dioxide and other harmful gases from your bloodstream during exhalation. The lungs work harder during exercise than during relaxation in order to supply additional oxygen required by the body. Therefore, during animated speaking you will consume extra oxygen which must be replaced by an increased intake of air.

During relaxed or at-rest breathing, the average time ratio of inhalation to exhalation is about 1:1. But, during normal speaking this ratio changes to about 1:5. In many speaking situations this ration can rise as high as 1:15, particularly when little volume is required.

When you need to increase your volume in order to be heard in a large group, you need to be sure your lungs have an adequate supply of air to create the pressure needed to produce sounds. By increasing air supply, you also will provide additional oxygen to muscles that are used to amplify sound.

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Diseases affecting the lungs:

Lung diseases are some of the most common medical conditions in the world. Smoking, infections, and genetics are responsible for most lung diseases.

Lung diseases affecting the airways:

The trachea (windpipe) branches into tubes called bronchi, which in turn branch to become progressively smaller tubes throughout the lungs. Some diseases that affect the airways are:

  • Asthma: The airways persistently inflames, and may occasionally spasm, causing wheezing and shortness of breath. Allergies, infections, or pollution can trigger asthma's symptoms.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Lung conditions defined by an inability to exhale normally, which causes difficulty in breathing.
  • Emphysema: Lung damage allows air to be trapped in the lungs in this form of COPD.
  • Acute bronchitis: A sudden infection of the airways, usually by a virus.
  • Cystic fibrosis: A genetic condition causing poor clearance of mucus from the bronchi. The accumulated mucus results in repeated lung infections.

Lung Diseases Affecting the Air Sacs:

The airways eventually branch into tiny tubes that dead-end into clusters of air sacs called alveoli. These air sacs make up most of the lung tissue. Lung diseases affecting the alveoli include:

  • Pneumonia: An infections of the alveoli, usually by bacteria.
  • Tuberculosis: A slowly progressive pneumonia caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • Lung cancer has many forms, and may develop in any part of the lungs. Most often this is in the main part of the lungs, in or near the air sacs. The type, location, and spread of lung cancer determines the treatment options.

Injuries affecting the lungs:

A lung injury can occur in many ways. A car accident could cause a harmful blow and a punctured lung. Or lungs can become injured from inhaling harmful chemicals. A lung injury can even occur while being treated in the hospital for an infection or while on a ventilator.

There are two main types of lung injuries. They are direct and indirect injuries.

Direct lung injuries are caused by severe infections, chemicals that you breathe in from outside, and trauma accidents that directly affect the lungs, such as:

  • Pneumonia, a severe lung infection.
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This is a certain type of pneumonia.
  • Pulmonary aspiration, which is the inhalation of vomit or salt water, such as from a near drowning.
  • Inhalation of harmful smoke or fumes.
  • Trauma to the lung, such as punctured wounds.
  • Ventilators, machines that help people breathe, but can sometimes injure the lungs.

An indirect lung injury is caused by another condition elsewhere in the body, such as:

  • Sepsis, where bacteria infects the bloodstream.
  • Severe bleeding from an injury or multiple blood transfusions.
  • Major trauma, such as severe blow to the chest or head during a car accident.
  • Acute pancreatitis. This is a condition in which the pancreas (a gland that releases enzymes and hormones) becomes irritated or infected.
  • Fat embolism, a condition in which fat blocks an artery, which can result from a physical injury such as a broken bone.
  • Severe burns
  • Drug overdose

A lung injury can cause a collapsed lung or develop into acute respiratory distress syndrome- two potentially life-threatening conditions. A collapsed lung is when the muscles of the chest and diaphragm contract they expand the chest, causing the lungs to inflate. Like a balloon, the lungs stretch as they inflate. When you exhale, the muscles relax, and like a balloon that's been released the lungs spring back. But if the air escapes from the lung and into the chest around the lung, the lung can collapse inside the chest. This can occur from the bursting of a week spot of the lung, either from another medical condition, infection, or cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Injuries:

Different signs and symptoms may very depending upon the cause of the lung injury.

  • Rapid breathing or trouble getting enough air.
  • Abnormal breathing sounds, such as a crackling noise
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Bluish lip or skin color
  • Anxiety or agitation

How do the lungs work?

Your lungs expand and contract, supplying life-sustaining oxygen to your body and removing from it, a waste product called carbon dioxide. Breathing starts at the nose and mouth. you inhale air into your nose or mouth, and it travels down the back of your throat and into your windpipe, or trachea. Your trachea then divides into air passages called bronchial tubes.

For your lungs to perform their best, these airways need to be open during inhalation and exhalation and free from inflammation or swelling and excess or abnormal amounts of mucus. As the bronchial tubes pass through the lungs, they divide into smaller air passages called bronchi oles. The bronchi oles end in tine balloon-like air sacs called alveoli. Your body has over 300 million alveoli.

The alveoli are surrounded by a mesh of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. Here, oxygen from the inhaled air passes through the alveoli walls and into the blood.

After absorbing oxygen, the blood leaves the lungs and is carried into your heart. Your heart then pumps it through your body to provide oxygen to the cells of your tissues and organs.

As the cells use the oxygen, carbon dioxide is produced and absorbed into the blood. Your blood then carries the carbon dioxide back to your lungs, where it is removed from the body when you exhale.

Good Life Habits

7 tips for a healthy respiratory system:

  1. Avoid Tobacco Exposure: quitting smoking is the single most effective measure you can take to keep your respiratory system healthy. It is estimated that, smokers have their lung capacity diminished by 60%. Every cigarette contains more than 4,000 harmful substances that reduce the functioning capacity of the lungs, causing deposits of tar to grow in the walls, and hardening lung tissue. If you are not a smoker, be aware of the effects of inhaling second hand smoke.
  2. Reduce Fatty Food Intake and Keep a Balanced Diet: the second most important thing you can do to improve your respiratory health is to make changes in your diet. A recent study was carried out in Australia suggests that high-fat foods might trigger asthma attacks and interfere with medication taken by sufferers or respiratory diseases. The main foods that are problems are full-fat butter and cheese, red meat, lard, and processed sweets. In order to prevent yourself from taking in these foods, is to consume foods that are packed with vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
  3. Limit Exposure to Common Allergens: health organizations report that in the UK, one in four individuals suffer from allergies. The most common allergens are dust mites, pollen, mold, and animal dander. Since most of these allergens are found at home, it is of foremost importance to have a cleaning routine.
  4. Maintain High Standards of Hygiene: respiratory diseases such as the common cold and pneumonia are often transmitted due to poor hygiene and inadequate hand washing. It is essential that you wash your hands before eating, after using public transport, coughing or sneezing, and of course using the bathroom, will reduce the chances of contracting a disease.
  5. Follow an Exercise Routine: walking, jogging, cycling, or any form of exercise can gradually increase the capacity of your respiratory system.
  6. Stay Hydrated: when you are dehydrated, your lungs dilate to make up for the loss of water, and their functioning becomes weak. Drinking between 6-8 glasses of water a day will help flush toxins off your respiratory system. Consuming the right amount of fluids will also help in the prevention of mucus formation.
  7. Reduce your Alcohol Intake: alcohol dehydrates your body and its consumption weakens the immune system, making your prone to respiratory disease. Heavy alcohol consumption makes the lungs vulnerable to infection and blocks the upper air passages.
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