Lungs: Anatomy, Function, and Treatment (2023)

The lungs are a major organ that is part of the respiratory system, taking in fresh air and getting rid of old, stale air. This mechanism of breathing also helps to allow you to talk. By taking in fresh air, the lungs are able to help oxygenate blood to be carried around your body. This is done by inhaling the air and bringing it in toward the pulmonary capillaries, which then become oxygen-filled cells that help with respiration.

Lungs: Anatomy, Function, and Treatment (1)



There are two lungs (a right and left) in the body, but they are different sizes. The right lung is bigger and is divided into three lobes (separated by fissures), while the left lobe is smaller consisting of two lobes. The left lobe is also smaller as it has to make room for the heart.

The left and right lungs are suspended by the lung root and separated by a mediastinum; it acts as a membrane partition between the two. Each lung has three surfaces, named after their location in the thorax. They are the mediastinal surface, diaphragmatic surface, and costal surface. Lungs are protected by pleura, a thin layer of tissue that provides cushion and a small amount of fluid to help the lungs breathe smoothly.

Inside the lungs are bronchi—tubes that run from the trachea into each lung. The bronchi branch off into smaller tubes called bronchioles which help air reach the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs in each lung. There are approximately 30,000 bronchioles in each lung and 600 million alveoli in each lung combined.

The lungs also consist of pulmonary arteries, pulmonary veins, bronchial arteries, as well as lymph nodes. While most arteries carry oxygenated blood to the tissues and veins carry deoxygenated blood back, this is reversed in the lungs. Deoxygenated blood is sent from the right ventricle of the heart to the lungs via the pulmonary artery. The blood is oxygenated in the lungs and exits through the pulmonary vein to the left side of the heart, where it is pumped out to the circulate through the body. Bronchial arteries, which stem from the aorta, get blood supply to fuel areas like the bronchi, lung roots, and surrounding structures.


The lungs are guarded by the rib cage, and they are located right above the diaphragm. Each lung is located near different organs in the body. The left lung lies close to the heart, thoracic aorta, and esophagus, while the right lung is by the esophagus, heart, both vena cavas (inferior and superior), and the azygos vein.

Looking at the lungs from the front they lie right above the collarbone and go halfway down the rib cage, although the back of the lungs are slightly longer, ending just above the last rib, while the pleura extends down the entirety of the rib cage. Together with your heart, the lungs take up almost the entire width of the rib cage.

Anatomical Variations

It’s common to see anatomical variations when it comes to the lungs. For example, in one study of 50 cadavers, 26% had incomplete and absent fissures, extra lobes, and/or an azygos lobe (when the azygosvein creates an extra fissure in the right lobe).

While these anatomical variations are common and often go unnoticed in otherwise healthy individuals, it’s important to distinguish them when reading radiological images as well as ahead of any surgery involving the lungs and monitoring for any post-operative complications like air leakage. These variations occur can happen for a number of reasons. According to research published in Anatomy & Cell Biology, the most common include genetic and environmental factors during development.


The lungs are responsible for bringing in fresh air into the body. As you breathe in the diaphragm helps move air up into the lungs by tightening its muscles (relaxing pushes air out). Once air enters the lungs by way of the mouth and nose (with the help of mucus which traps dust and dirt from entering with the air), the air travels through the trachea and into the bronchi, filling up alveoli. From there, air travels to the blood vessels surrounding the alveoli. The red blood cells release carbon dioxide and exchange it for oxygen, which binds to hemoglobin molecules. The oxygenated blood circulates through the body. Carbon dioxide and other gases the body doesn’t need are exhaled out by the lungs.

(Video) Anatomy and physiology of the respiratory system

The act of the lungs exhaling is also what helps you speak. The exhaled air goes back through the trachea to the larynx and finally the vocal cords, making them vibrate and produce sound.

Associated Conditions

Lung disease is an extremely broad term, as it covers a plethora of conditions ranging from mild to severe. The three main types of lung disease include:

  • Airway diseases including chronicobstructivepulmonary disease(COPD), and asthma. COPD affects 65 million people and is the third leading cause of death worldwide. Asthma affects 334 million people and affects 14% of children worldwide, making it one of the most common chronic childhood conditions.
  • Lung tissue diseases like pulmonary fibrosisandsarcoidosis. There are 30,000 to 40,000 new cases of pulmonary fibrosis diagnosed in the U.S. each year, affecting 100,000 people in total. Sarcoidosis is considered a rare disease, affecting fewer than 200,000 in the U.S.
  • Lung circulation diseases (which frequently also affect the heart) like pulmonary hypertension or pulmonary embolism. There are many different types of pulmonary hypertension, but those with lung diseases like chronic obstructive and fibrotic disease make up the second-largest group that deals with pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary embolisms also range in severity, with people who have chronic lung disease being at higher risk. If left untreated, pulmonary embolism has a mortality rate as high as 30%.


Your lung function hits max capacity between the ages of 20 to 25 years old, but after age 35 it naturally (and slightly) declines. However, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath is not normal and should be discussed with your healthcare provider immediately. After discussing your symptoms along with your overall health history, your healthcare provider may order one or more of the below tests to determine the cause behind your breathing difficulty:

  • Spirometry: A test that measures how much and how quickly air can move in and out of the lungs.
  • Lung plethysmography test: Measuring how much air you can hold in the lungs and the amount of air left after exhaling.
  • Diffusing capacity of the lungs test: A test that tells how much oxygen and carbon dioxide gets diffused into the bloodstream.
  • Exercise stress test: Also commonly used to diagnose cardiac diseases, this test shows the amount of air that moves in and out of the lungs during exercise like walking or riding a stationary bike.

16 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. National Cancer Institute SEER Training Modules. Anatomy of the lung.

  2. Kids Health from Nemours. Your lungs & respiratory system.

  3. Teach Me Anatomy. The lungs.

  4. Chaudhry R,Bordoni B. Anatomy, thorax, lungs. StatPearls.

  5. Poe E, Granite G. Anatomical lung variations: A study conducted on cadaveric specimens. International Journal of Anatomical Variations.

  6. George BM, Nayak SB, Marpalli S. Morphological variations of the lungs: a study conducted on Indian cadavers. Anat Cell Biol. 2014;47(4):253-258. doi:10.5115/acb.2014.47.4.253

  7. Kc S, Shrestha P, Shah AK, Jha AK. Variations in human pulmonary fissures and lobes: a study conducted in Nepalese cadavers. Anat Cell Biol. 2018;51(2):85-92. doi:10.5115/acb.2018.51.2.85

  8. The Lung Association. How the lungs work.

  9. Medline Plus. Lung disease.

  10. World Health Organization. The global impact of respiratory disease.

  11. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine Genetics Home Reference. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

  12. American Lung Association. Learn about sarcoidosis.

    (Video) Lung Anatomy

  13. Hoeper MM, Ghofrani HA, Grünig E, Klose H, Olschewski H, Rosenkranz S. Pulmonary hypertension. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017;114(5):73-84. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2017.0073

  14. Bĕlohlávek J, Dytrych V, Linhart A. Pulmonary embolism, part I: Epidemiology, risk factors and risk stratification, pathophysiology, clinical presentation, diagnosis and nonthrombotic pulmonary embolism. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2013;18(2):129-38.

  15. American Lung Association. Lung capacity and aging.

  16. MedlinePlus. Lung function tests.


Lungs: Anatomy, Function, and Treatment (2)

By Colleen Travers
Colleen Travers writes about health, fitness, travel, parenting, and women’s lifestyle for various publications and brands.


What is the treatment for lungs problem? ›

For most people with COPD, short-acting bronchodilator inhalers are the first treatment used. Bronchodilators are medicines that make breathing easier by relaxing and widening your airways. There are 2 types of short-acting bronchodilator inhaler: beta-2 agonist inhalers – such as salbutamol and terbutaline.

What is lung anatomy and function? ›

The lungs are a pair of spongy, air-filled organs located on either side of the chest (thorax). The trachea (windpipe) conducts inhaled air into the lungs through its tubular branches, called bronchi. The bronchi then divide into smaller and smaller branches (bronchioles), finally becoming microscopic.

What is the function of lungs in function? ›

The main function of the lungs is the process of gas exchange called respiration (or breathing). In respiration, oxygen from incoming air enters the blood, and carbon dioxide, a waste gas from the metabolism, leaves the blood. A reduced lung function means that the ability of lungs to exchange gases is reduced.

What is the best treatment for lung infection? ›

Antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment for bacterial lung infections. The antibiotic that will be used will depend on which bacteria is causing the infection. In some cases, a provider may choose to start antibiotics while they are waiting for tests to come back.

What can damage lungs? ›

Secondhand smoke, chemicals in the home and workplace, and radon all can cause or worsen lung disease.

How can I clean my lungs? ›

Lung Cleansing Techniques
  1. Do Steam Therapy. Breathe in, breathe out. ...
  2. Drink Green Tea. Cleaning your lungs may be as simple as sipping hot tea—green tea, specifically. ...
  3. Invest in an Air Purifier. One way to clean your lungs is to first clean the air you breathe. ...
  4. Exercise Regularly. ...
  5. Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods.

What are the 5 main functions of the lungs? ›

Warms air to match your body temperature and moisturizes it to the humidity level your body needs. Delivers oxygen to the cells in your body. Removes waste gases, including carbon dioxide, from the body when you exhale. Protects your airways from harmful substances and irritants.

What is the lung disease? ›

Lung disease is any problem in the lungs that prevents the lungs from working properly. There are three main types of lung disease: Airway diseases -- These diseases affect the tubes (airways) that carry oxygen and other gases into and out of the lungs. They usually cause a narrowing or blockage of the airways.

What are the 4 types of respiration? ›

Three types of respiration include internal, external, and cellular respiration. External respiration is the breathing process. It involves inhalation and exhalation of gases. Internal respiration involves gas exchange between the blood and body cells.

What is the structure of lungs? ›

Anatomically, the lung has an apex, three borders, and three surfaces. The apex lies above the first rib. The three borders include the anterior, posterior, and inferior borders. The anterior border of the lung corresponds to the pleural reflection, and it creates a cardiac notch in the left lung.

Where is lung located? ›

Your lungs are on each side of your heart, inside your chest cavity. They are the main organs of the respiratory system. The right lung is divided into three lobes (sections), and the left lung is divided into two lobes.

Can you live with one lung? ›

Most people can get by with only one lung instead of two, if needed. Usually, one lung can provide enough oxygen and remove enough carbon dioxide, unless the other lung is damaged. During a pneumonectomy, the surgeon makes a cut (incision) on the side of your body.

How do you know if your lungs are healthy? ›

A spirometry test measures how healthy your lungs are and can be used to help diagnose and monitor lung conditions. During the test, you will breathe out as much air as you can, as hard as you can, into a device called a spirometer.

Which are the main muscles for breathing? ›

From a functional point of view, there are three groups of respiratory muscles: the diaphragm, the rib cage muscles and the abdominal muscles. Each group acts on the chest wall and its compartments, i.e. the lung-apposed rib cage, the diaphragm-apposed rib cage and the abdomen.

What are the signs of lung infection? ›

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:
  • Cough, which may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus.
  • Fever, sweating and shaking chills.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough.
  • Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue.

What antibiotic is used for lung infection? ›

The recommended first-line treatment is a 10-day course of penicillin. Erythromycin can be used in patients who are allergic to penicillin. Amoxicillin, azithromycin (Zithromax), and first-generation cephalosporins are appropriate alternatives.

What is the fastest way to cure a lung infection? ›

Try these tips:
  1. Take OTC medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to lower your fever and help relieve any aches and pains.
  2. Use OTC decongestants or expectorants to help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough up.
  3. Be sure to get plenty of rest.
  4. Drink lots of fluids.

What are the first signs of lung problems? ›

Common signs are:
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling like you're not getting enough air.
  • Decreased ability to exercise.
  • A cough that won't go away.
  • Coughing up blood or mucus.
  • Pain or discomfort when breathing in or out.
20 Aug 2021

How can I improve lung healing? ›

Steam therapy may offer temporary relief to people who suffer from congestion or chronic respiratory conditions. Regularly exercising, drinking green tea, and eating anti-inflammatory foods are lifestyle changes that may improve lung health and decrease the risk of health conditions.

How do I know if my lungs are damaged? ›

Wheezing: Noisy breathing or wheezing is a sign that something unusual is blocking your lungs' airways or making them too narrow. Coughing up blood: If you are coughing up blood, it may be coming from your lungs or upper respiratory tract. Wherever it's coming from, it signals a health problem.

What vitamins help with lungs? ›

Some vitamins, particularly vitamins A, D, and E, are immune system superstars that seem to help protect the lungs from respiratory illnesses. Eating a healthy and balanced diet should provide all the vitamins you need for a strong immune system.

Is milk good for lungs? ›

Good: Dairy Products

Research suggests drinking milk and eating cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products can lower your chances of dying from lung cancer. Unless you're allergic to it, dairy is tied to anti-inflammatory properties.

What juice is good for lungs? ›

Orange juice may be helpful in promoting lung health by providing vitamin C and phytonutrients (naturally occurring plant compounds) called flavonoids.

What are the 11 parts of respiratory system? ›

Respiratory system
  • Nose.
  • Mouth.
  • Throat (pharynx)
  • Voice box (larynx)
  • Windpipe (trachea)
  • Large airways (bronchi)
  • Small airways (bronchioles)
  • Lungs.

Why are healthy lungs important? ›

You may not think about the importance of your lung health until you experience a breathing problem. Your lungs provide oxygen and keep every other organ functioning by removing carbon dioxide from your body. Genetics, disease, and the environment can affect the health of your lungs and cause respiratory problems.

What is a respiratory failure? ›

Respiratory failure is a serious condition that makes it difficult to breathe on your own. Respiratory failure develops when the lungs can't get enough oxygen into the blood. We breathe oxygen from the air into our lungs, and we breathe out carbon dioxide, which is a waste gas made in the body's cells.

What causes lungs problem? ›

Smoking, infections, and genes cause most lung diseases. Your lungs are part of a complex system, expanding and relaxing thousands of times each day to bring in oxygen and send out carbon dioxide. Lung disease can happen when there are problems in any part of this system.

What causes lungs infection? ›

A lung infection can be caused by a virus, bacteria, and sometimes even a fungus. One of the most common types of lung infections is called pneumonia. Pneumonia, which affects the smaller air sacs of the lungs, is most often caused by contagious bacteria, but can also be caused by a virus.

Is lung disease curable? ›

Reducing the burden of COPD

There is no cure for COPD, but early diagnosis and treatment are important to slow the progression of symptoms and reduce the risk of flare-ups.

What is the most common respiratory infection? ›

Common colds are the most prevalent entity of all respiratory infections and are the leading cause of patient visits to the physician, as well as work and school absenteeism. Most colds are caused by viruses.

What are the 2 main types of respiration? ›

The two types of respiration are aerobic respiration ( it is a process that uses oxygen) and anaerobic respiration ( it is a process that doesn't use oxygen).

What is the size of the lungs? ›

In the normal adult, the lungs weigh approximately 1000 g. Lung volume increases from about 250 mL at birth to 6000 mL in the adult. The height of a normal adult lung is 27 cm at total lung capacity, but in the range of normal breathing it is approximately 24 cm in height.

Which is the biggest lung? ›

The right lung is larger and weighs more than the left lung. Since the heart tilts to the left, the left lung is smaller than the right and has an indentation called the cardiac impression to accommodate the heart.

Where do you feel lung pain? ›

Lung pain is often felt when you breathe in and out, either on one or both sides of your chest. Technically, the pain isn't coming from inside the lungs, since they have very few pain receptors. Instead, the pain may come from the lining of the lungs, which does have pain receptors.

Can you feel lung pain? ›

People often cite “lung pain” to describe the pain they feel in their chest. However, your lungs have very few pain receptors, which can make it difficult to tell the source of your pain and which organs are involved. If you think you feel lung pain, you may be experiencing general chest pain.

How can I check my lungs at home? ›

Here's the Home Solution

How do you measure your lung capacity? A common method is using a Peak Flow Meter, a handheld device that measures the strength of your breath. You simply breathe into one end and the meter instantly shows a reading on a scale, typically in liters per minute (lpm).

Can the lungs cause back pain? ›

Yes, sometimes chest pain from lung conditions can radiate to the shoulders, neck, and back. Where is the lung pain felt in the back? Due to the location of the lungs, most lung conditions cause pain in the upper-to-middle regions of the back.

Can a lung grow back? ›

A: No, the lungs can't regenerate. You can take out 75% to 80% of the liver and it will regenerate, but not the lungs. After a lobectomy, your mediastinum (a space in the thorax in the middle of the chest) and diaphragm will shift a little, so there won't be a space left where the lobe was taken out.

How long can you live with damaged lungs? ›

When you do your research, you may see average survival is between three to five years. This number is an average. There are patients who live less than three years after diagnosis, and others who live much longer.

How long does lung surgery take? ›

After the surgery on your lung, your surgeon will close the ribs, muscles, and skin with sutures. Open lung surgery may take from 2 to 6 hours.

Is there a blood test for lungs? ›

Blood gas test: This blood test measures blood pH levels as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which are useful as a measure of lung efficiency and health.

What causes weak lung muscles? ›

Respiratory muscle weakness and sleepdisordered breathing are both common in neuromuscular diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) 1–5, muscular dystrophies (e.g. Duchenne's muscular dystrophy (DMD) 6–10, and myotonic dystrophy (MD) 11–14, myopathies (e.g. nemaline myopathy 15), GuillianBarré syndrome and ...

How do you strengthen weak respiratory muscles? ›

Respiratory Muscle Exercises - YouTube

Can Tight muscles cause breathing problems? ›

The effects of muscle “knots” on breathing. Trigger points — better known as muscle knots — can cause shortness of breath.

What are the symptoms of lungs problem? ›

Common Symptoms
  • Breathlessness. Breathlessness is a common symptom of lung disease, however many people put breathlessness down to ageing, being overweight or unfit. ...
  • Persistent cough. Coughing is very common. ...
  • Weight loss. ...
  • Fatigue. ...
  • Wheeze. ...
  • Chest infections. ...
  • Mucus production. ...
  • Coughing up blood.

Which test is for lungs? ›

Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) are noninvasive tests that show how well the lungs are working. The tests measure lung volume, capacity, rates of flow, and gas exchange.

What causes lungs problem? ›

Smoking, infections, and genes cause most lung diseases. Your lungs are part of a complex system, expanding and relaxing thousands of times each day to bring in oxygen and send out carbon dioxide. Lung disease can happen when there are problems in any part of this system.

What are the 7 most common types of lung disease? ›

The most common lung diseases include:
  • Asthma.
  • Collapse of part or all of the lung (pneumothorax or atelectasis)
  • Swelling and inflammation in the main passages (bronchial tubes) that carry air to the lungs (bronchitis)
  • COPD.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Lung infection (pneumonia)
  • Abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
3 Aug 2020

How can I clean my lungs? ›

Lung Cleansing Techniques
  1. Do Steam Therapy. Breathe in, breathe out. ...
  2. Drink Green Tea. Cleaning your lungs may be as simple as sipping hot tea—green tea, specifically. ...
  3. Invest in an Air Purifier. One way to clean your lungs is to first clean the air you breathe. ...
  4. Exercise Regularly. ...
  5. Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods.

What happens if lungs are weak? ›

Over time, the airways become scarred, limiting airflow to and from the lungs. With emphysema, the lung tissue is weakened, and the walls of the air sacs break down. This means less oxygen enters the blood, causing shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.

Can lungs repair themselves? ›

Your lungs are self-cleaning, which means they will gradually heal and regenerate on their own after you quit smoking. However, there are certain lifestyle behaviors you can practice to try and accelerate the rate at which your lungs heal.

How do you check for lung damage? ›

A chest X-ray is a fast and painless imaging test to look at the structures in and around your chest. This test can help diagnose and check conditions such as pneumonia, heart failure, lung cancer, tuberculosis, sarcoidosis, emphysema, and lung tissue scarring, called fibrosis.

Will blood test show lung problems? ›

Simply put, yes, some lung problems can be detected by blood tests, but it is mainly regarded as supplemental. While some people assume that respiratory health assessment is exclusively done through x-ray, spirometry, and CT-scan, other lab tests are crucial in diagnosing diseases.

What is normal lung age? ›

Your lungs mature by the time you are about 20-25 years old. After about the age of 35, it is normal for your lung function to decline gradually as you age. This can make breathing slightly more difficult as you get older.

What are 3 diseases that affect the lungs? ›

The most common lung diseases include:
  • Asthma.
  • Collapse of part or all of the lung (pneumothorax or atelectasis)
  • Swelling and inflammation in the main passages (bronchial tubes) that carry air to the lungs (bronchitis)
  • COPD.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Lung infection (pneumonia)
  • Abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)

What is the most common lung disease? ›

The two most common chronic respiratory diseases are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These both affect the airways in the lungs.

What is lung damage called? ›

Pulmonary fibrosis scars and thickens lung tissue. It impacts the connecting tissue in the lung and the alveoli (air sacs inside the lungs). The lung damage gradually gets worse over time. Hard, stiff lung tissues don't expand as well as they should, making it harder to breathe.

Is lung disease curable? ›

Reducing the burden of COPD

There is no cure for COPD, but early diagnosis and treatment are important to slow the progression of symptoms and reduce the risk of flare-ups.

What are the most serious lung diseases? ›

The Top 8 Respiratory Illnesses and Diseases
  • Asthma. ...
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) ...
  • Chronic Bronchitis. ...
  • Emphysema. ...
  • Lung Cancer. ...
  • Cystic Fibrosis/Bronchiectasis. ...
  • Pneumonia. ...
  • Pleural Effusion.
1 Apr 2020

What is lung infection? ›

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.


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