Diagnosing Lung and Breathing Problems

Yanto Yulianto By Yanto Yulianto, 17th Jan 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>General Health>Managing Health Care

Individual can survive without food for weeks. Some people have fasted for forty or fifty days. You can get along without water for days but you cannot get along for more than a few minutes without breathing. It is a proof how important your lungs are to you. Most people just take their lungs to granted, they accept their presence as a natural matter, just like the growth of their hair, so they don’t feel it necessary to give any attention to them.

Keep Your Lung


Individual can survive without food for weeks. Some people have fasted for forty or fifty days. You can get along without water for days but you cannot get along for more than a few minutes without breathing. It is a proof how important your lungs are to you. Most people just take their lungs to granted, they accept their presence as a natural matter, just like the growth of their hair, so they don’t feel it necessary to give any attention to them. For most people, the lungs work noiselessly and efficiently most of the time, from their birth to their death. In fact, however, when your lungs make themselves known, you are already in trouble. So it is better give them some thought and good care before it is too late.

The parts of the Lung

The two lungs take up most of the space inside the chest cavity. The right lung is divided into three parts, called lobes. The smaller left lung is divided into only two lobes. The lungs are pink and spongy and look a bit like balloons. Each lung is surrounded by a thin, airtight membrane is called a pleura.

Together with the lungs, the pharynx, the cavity located behind the nose and mouth; the larynx, or voice box; and the trachea, or windpipe, make up the respiratory system. From the nose, air passes through the pharynx to the the larynx and then into the strong, flexible trachea. The trachea, which extends into the chest, is 4 to 5 inches (10 to 13 centimeters) long and up to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) in diameter. Within the chest cavity, the trachea branches into two narrower tubes. Each tube, called a bronchus, enters a lung and branches again and again, into still narrower tubes. The smallest of these, the bronchioles are only about 1/25 inch (1 millimeter) in diameter.

Each bronchiole ends in a grapelike cluster of tiny sacs, called alveoli. Each alveolus is only 1/125 inch (0.2 millimeter) in diameter. The inner walls of the alveoli are coated with a surfactant, a chemical that keeps the alveoli from sticking together and makes it easier for them to inflate. The 300 to 400 million alveoli in each lung provide an enormous surface area about 80 to 100 square yards (67 to 84 square meters), or about 40 to 50 times the total skin area. This large surface allows the rapid exchange of gases to take place.

Each alveolus is surrounded by a network of tiny capillaries, which receive waste-carrying blood that is pumped from the heart. The walls of the alveoli and the walls of the capillaries surrounding them are moist and very thin, so gases can pass easily between the tiny air sacs and the blood flowing through the capillaries around them. It is here that the transfer of gases takes place: Oxygen breathed in moves out of the air sacs into the blood, and carbon dioxide moves out of the blood into the air sacs. The blood, now free of waste products and rich in oxygen, is carried back to the heart and then pumped throughout the body.

How the lungs work

Normally breathing is automatic, even when sleeping. All the work of breathing is coordinated in the brain without our having to think about it. With each breath, an adult takes in about 1 pint (0.5 liter) of air, or about 12 pints (6 liters) per minute. With a deep breath, nearly 4 quarts (about 3.5 liters) can be taken in. During exercise, when the muscles are working hard, the body needs more oxygen. So the breathing rate speeds up, and more air is taken in with each breath. During hard exercise, a person may take in 15 to 20 times as much air as usual, more than 200 pints (100 liters) of air per minute.

The lungs do not have any muscles of their own, so they are not able to move by themselves. Breathing depends on movements of the diaphragm and the intercostals, the muscles between the ribs. When we inhale, or breathe in, the diaphragm contracts, moving downward, while the chest muscles contract, moving the ribs upward and outward. With these movements, the chest cavity expands, lowering air pressure in the lungs. Because air always moves from a high-pressure area to a low-pressure area, air moves from the higher pressure area outside into the lungs. When we exhale, or breathe out, the muscles relax and the chest cavity becomes smaller. This increases the air pressure inside the lungs, so that the air, moving to the lower pressure that is outside, rushes out of the lungs.

When air is inhaled, the alveoli expand like little balloons. Oxygen passes out, or diffuses, through their thin walls and into the surrounding capillaries, where it is picked up by the red blood cells. Meanwhile, the red cells have released their loads of carbon dioxide, gathered from the body cells on their last trip through the body. This carbon dioxide diffuses through the capillary walls, enters the alveoli, and then is exhaled. Not all of the air in the alveoli leaves the lungs during exhalation. Nearly 3 pints (at least 1.2 liters) remains in the lungs, even if a forceful effort is made to blow the air out. This remaining air is called the residual volume.

There are several safeguards that help keep the lungs in working order. Bristly hairs in the nose trap large particles, and the sticky substance called mucus picks up smaller ones. The lining of the respiratory tubes provides two kinds of protection to keep dust and other solid particles from reaching the alveoli. Some cells in the lining secrete mucus, which traps particles that have gotten through the first line of defense. Other cells are studded with tiny hair like structures called cilia. The cilia wave back and forth, creating currents in the mucus that carry trapped particles upward, away from the lungs. Sometimes the trapped particles are carried out of the respiratory passages during a sneeze or cough. Typically the particles trapped in mucus are swept into the throat. The mucus, which is swallowed, reaches the stomach where any germs are killed by stomach acid and pass harmlessly out of the body.

In addition to their important work as respiratory organs, the lungs perform some other functions. They help excrete waste products and other substances. They also help in forming the sounds of speech. When the exhaled air is forced through the folds of tissue in the larynx called the vocal cords, the tissue vibrates, producing sounds.

Disorders of the Lungs

Most people know that smoking can lead to lung cancer. As lung tissue is invaded by cancer, the number of alveoli able to carry on the normal breathing functions decreases. Cancer cells may also break away and travel through the blood and lymph, settling down in other organs and forming tumors there as well. Air pollution can also contribute to the formation of cancers.

Smoking and air pollution can cause another kind of serious lung disease such as emphysema. Smoking irritates the bronchioles and paralyzes the action of the cilia. In this way it interferes with the normal cleaning action of the cilia, so that the tars and other solid particles introduced into the airways by smoking cannot be cleared away. The results of smoking can be seen on a smoker’s lungs. Along time smoker has lungs that are gray rather than pink, from all the soot and tar deposits. Both smoking and air pollution can lead to chronic infections. The excess mucus and inflammation that result may obstruct bronchioles, making it difficult to exhale. Air stays trapped in the alveoli and stretches them, leading to destruction of their walls. As alveoli are destroyed, breathing becomes more and more difficult.

Pneumonia is a term for lung infections in which the lung tissue is inflamed and the alveoli are filled with fluid and blood cells. It may be caused by bacteria or viruses. Tuberculosis is a lung infection caused by a type of bacteria called tubercle bacilli. The lung tissue fights the infection by walling off the bacteria in pockets called tubercles. This helps to keep the infection from spreading, but sometimes the bacteria break free and spread through the lungs, damaging tissues and decreasing the number of alveoli.

Obstruction of the airways by mucus or by a cancerous tumor may lead to atelectasis, a collapse of the alveoli. It may affect a small area, a whole lobe of a lung, or an entire lung. In babies born prematurely, the alveoli may collapse for a different reason: a lack of the surfactant that helps to keep their walls from sticking together. This condition is called respiratory distress syndrome (RDS).
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is severe, sudden injury to the lungs caused by a serious illness. Life support with mechanical ventilation is usually needed to survive until the lungs recover.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a severe pneumonia caused by a specific virus first discovered in Asia in 2002. Worldwide prevention measures seem to have controlled SARS, which has caused no deaths in the U.S.
Asthma is a disorder in which spasms of the bronchioles occur, making it difficult to breathe. In young people, it is generally the result of allergic reactions to plant pollens or other substances in the air. Air pollution can also bring on asthma attacks, especially in older people. Drugs to open the bronchioles can help to ease the breathing distress.
Bronchiectasis is the airways (bronchi) become inflamed and expand abnormally, usually after repeated infections. Coughing, with large amounts of mucus, is the main symptom of bronchiectasis. It is an inflammation of the bronchi.
Lung cancer is cancer may affect almost any part of the lung. Most lung cancer is caused by smoking.
Influenza (flu) is an infection by one or more flu viruses causes fever, body aches, and coughing lasting a week or more. Influenza can progress to life-threatening pneumonia, especially in older people with medical problems.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) damages to the lungs results in difficulty blowing air out, causing shortness of breath. Smoking is by far the most common cause of this disease.
Chronic bronchitis is repeated, frequent episodes of productive cough, usually caused by smoking, breathing also becomes difficult in this form of COPD.
Acute bronchitis is an infection of the lung’s large airways (bronchi), usually caused by a virus. Cough is the main symptom of acute bronchitis.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a form of interstitial lung disease. The interstitium (walls between air sacs) become scarred, making the lungs stiff and causing shortness of breath.
Sarcoidosis is tiny areas of inflammation can affect all organs in the body, with the lungs involved most of the time. The symptoms are usually mild; sarcoidosis is usually found when X-rays are done for other reasons.
Obesity hypoventilation syndrome is extra weight makes it difficult to expand the chest when breathing. This can lead to long-term breathing problems.
Pleural effusion is fluid builds up in the normally tiny space between the lung and the inside of the chest wall (the pleural space). If large, pleural effusions can cause problems with breathing.
Pleurisy is inflammation of the lining of the lung (pleura), which often causes pain when breathing in. Autoimmune conditions, infections, or a pulmonary embolism may cause pleurisy.
Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM) is a rare condition in which cysts form throughout the lungs, causing breathing problems similar to emphysema. LAM occurs almost exclusively in women of childbearing age.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition in which mucus does not clear easily from the airways. The excess mucus causes repeated episodes of bronchitis and pneumonia throughout life. It is a hereditary disease which causes the lung to produce abnormally viscous mucus.
Interstitial lung disease is a collection of conditions in which the interstitium (lining between the air sacs) becomes diseased. Fibrosis (scarring) of the interstitium eventually results, if the process can't be stopped.
Coccidioidomycosis is a pneumonia caused by Coccidioides, a fungus found in the soil in the southwestern U.S. Most people experience no symptoms, or a flu-like illness with complete recovery.
Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by inhaling Histoplasma capsulatum, a fungus found in the soil in the eastern and central U.S. Most Histoplasma pneumonias are mild, causing only a short-lived cough and flu-like symptoms.
Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (allergic alveolitis) is inhaled dust causes an allergic reaction in the lungs. Usually this occurs in farmers or others who work with dried, dusty plant material.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that forms from the cells lining various organs of the body with the lungs being the most common. Mesothelioma tends to emerge several decades after asbestos exposure.
Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly contagious infection of the airways (bronchi) by Bordetella pertussis, causing persistent cough. A booster vaccine (Tdap) is recommended for adolescents and adults to prevent pertussis.
Pulmonary hypertension. Many conditions can lead to high blood pressure in the arteries leading from the heart to the lungs. If no cause can be identified, the condition is called idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension.
Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot (usually from a vein in the leg) may break off and travel to the heart, which pumps the clot (embolus) into the lungs. Sudden shortness of breath is the most common symptom of a pulmonary embolism. It occurs when a blood clot obstructs an artery leading to the lung.
Pneumothorax is air in the chest; it occurs when air enters the area around the lung (the pleural space) abnormally. Pneumothorax can be caused by an injury or may happen spontaneously. A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) can occur when one or both walls of the pleural savity are penetrated by injury, allowing air to enter.
Pneumoconiosis is an occupational lung disease caused by the inhalation of dust.

In pulmonary edema fluid from the capillaries enters the alveoli. This can be caused by weakness of the left side of the heart (resulting in a blood holdup in the lung). Altitude sickness is caused by merely inhaling toxic gases. Lung pinprick condition is a hereditary disease which results in decreased lung capacity and occasional shortness of breath.

How do you keep your lungs?

Since your lungs make you aware of their presence only when they are in trouble, it is very wise to take care of them before trouble comes to you. Of course, if a person is serious about his health, and in particular about the condition of his lungs, he does not smoke tobacco. To stop smoking is good not only for the lungs but also for the heart and the liver.

One of the things you can do to keep your lungs in good condition is to get sufficient exercise. Of course, if you are a postman who delivers mail on foot, or if you are a construction worker, you may not need to think about exercise. The same is true if you should happen to be a housewife with a large house and family to look after but if you are in an office worker then you should give some thought to getting extra physical exercise. Climbing stairs instead of using elevators or lifts is one way to get exercise without taking much extra time. To improve your health, exercise should be regular.

Relaxed, unhurried running is another form of exercise that is popular but activity that also involves the mind maybe better. Among the light sports are such games as tennis, ping pong or table tennis and swimming. Habitual worrying or quarreling about anything is certainly very bad “exercise”, and it can worsen the condition of your lungs. Often deep breathing in clean, fresh air will make you feel better, both physically and emotionally.

In accordance with the adage “prevention is better than cure”. Give some thought to wise living habits while you are still enjoying good health and before your lungs make you painfully aware of their presence. It is better not to smoke tobacco and drink alcoholic beverages. Avoid extreme actions whether in eating, working or pleasure-seeking. Learn to be moderate in all things and to be content with having the necessary things, food, clothing and shelter.
Transplantation now allows for a person to have a single lung transplant, a double-lung transplant, or a transplant of both the heart and lungs.


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author avatar Yanto Yulianto
I am an industrial engineer, lawyer and accountant. I have an hobby to write articles or other things.

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