Your lungs are vital organs that bring fresh oxygen into your body and remove carbon dioxide and other gases that your body does not need. This process, known as ventilation, takes place 12 to 20 times every minute. Your lungs depend on the muscles of your rib cage to help – especially the large, dome-shaped muscle called the diaphragm. When you breathe in, your diaphragm tightens and flattens, allowing you to take air into your lungs. When you exhale, your diaphragm and other rib cage muscles relax, and the air comes out of your lungs.
To get the oxygen you need, you inhale through your mouth and nose. The mucous membranes in your mouth and nose warm and moisten the air and filter dust and dirt before the air passes through the throat into the trachea, or windpipe.
From there, your airway gets increasingly smaller. The trachea is divided into two air passages called bronchial tubes. One leads to the left lung, the other to the right. The bronchial tubes divide into yet smaller air passages called bronchi, and then into bronchioles.
At the end of the bronchioles are tiny air sacs called alveoli that are clustered like bunches of tiny balloons. When you breathe in, the balloons expand as air rushes in. When you breathe out, the balloons relax and air moves out of the lungs. There are approximately 300 million alveoli in the lungs, tiny blood vessels that surround each of these balloons transfer oxygen from the inhaled air to the blood, and also allow carbon dioxide and waste gases to be exhaled.
If you suffer from a respiratory disease, a disease that affects your lungs or the muscles that control your lungs, the process of simply breathing air in and out is very difficult. Your quality of life and overall health changes dramatically as a result. When your breathing is interrupted either because your muscles are too weak to draw air into your lungs because of underlying neuromuscular disease or from obstructed airflow because of chronic inflammatory lung disease, you are likely to experience a variety of symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty in laying flat
- Feel confused, disoriented or anxious
- Suffer from headaches
If you exhibit any of these symptoms a spirometry, a simple breathing test, can help tell if you have COPD. This test measures how much air your lungs can hold and how fast you can blow air out of them.