Understanding Your Lungs

Understanding what's going on in your lungs can help you feel more control over your breathing. Here’s a start…


How the Lungs Work

To understand COPD better, it helps to know how the lungs work.

Air comes in through your nose and mouth, moves through the trachea (windpipe), and down into the lungs. Air moves farther into your lungs through the bronchial tubes. The air ends up in air sacs at the ends of these airways. These sacs are called alveoli. In these air sacs, oxygen from the air you breathe in is absorbed into the blood. Oxygen is then carried in the blood to all parts of your body to help your body function. Carbon dioxide remains, is released from your blood, and breathed out.

When the muscles around your lungs tighten and relax, air moves in and out. When these muscles tighten, the diaphragm moves down, pulling air into the lungs. When the muscles relax, the diaphragm moves up and pushes air out of the lungs.

Breathing, for the most part, is something our body does for us, without us having to think about it.

Parts of the Respiratory System

Trachea (tray-key-uh): the largest airway in the respiratory system (sometimes called the windpipe). It begins at the base of the neck, just below the voice box, and leads to the lungs.

Diaphragm (die-a-fram): the muscle that separates the chest cavity from the stomach. The diaphragm is the main muscle we use for breathing. When the diaphragm muscle tightens, the lungs expand.

Bronchial (brawn-key-el) tubes and bronchioles (brawn-keyoles): the airways of the lungs. Air flows through these tubes into and out of the lungs. Bronchial tubes are the larger airways. Bronchioles are smaller airways that lead to the alveoli.

Alveoli (al-vee-oh-lee): millions of tiny sacs at the very ends of the smallest tubes in the lungs. Oxygen is absorbed into the blood and carbon dioxide is released from the blood here.

Cilia (seal-lee-ah): tiny, hair-like fibers that line the bronchial tubes. They help move mucus up through the tubes so it can be coughed out.

Review a list of COPD Frequently Asked Questions.

COPD Frequently Asked Questions


Resources and Support

The COPD Foundation offers resources such as COPD360social, an online community where you can connect with patients, caregivers and healthcare providers and ask questions, share your experiences and receive and provide support. We also offer free, downloadable educational materials available through our downloads library.


Join Us on COPD360social

Sign In to Participate
Or register to become a member