Breathe in…breathe out. Do you know how amazing your lungs are? Whether you take your lungs for granted or your respiratory symptom worries you, you probably don’t fully appreciate your lungs—the largest organ of your body. Here’s a fun quiz to learn some fascinating facts about your lungs and how to keep them healthy!
On average, we breathe in 600 to 800 gallons of air each day.
If you guessed true, think bigger! We breathe in about 2,100 to 2,400 gallons of air each day, taking 22,000 breaths to do it! We need that much air to oxygenate the 2,400 gallons or so of blood that pumps through our hearts daily. But as we age, oxygen levels can drop 20%, partially because of poor breathing habits such a shallow breathing, which can cause dizziness, light-headedness, tension and fatigue. Better-breathing exercise: Lie on your back, one hand resting on your belly. Take slow, deep breaths through your nostrils, feeling your belly expand and contract with each breath. Continue for about 10 minutes.
You shouldn't consume acid-causing foods and drinks, such as deli meats and sodas, because they can lead to respiratory acidosis, essentially poisoning your lungs.
There is a dangerous condition called respiratory acidosis—but it has nothing to do with whether your foods increase acid. The lungs remove carbon dioxide, a by-product of metabolism, from blood and expel it through exhalation. When they aren’t able to expel enough carbon dioxide, toxic levels build up and throw off the chemical balance of the body. This results in acidosis, literally acid poisoning of all the cells, and can damage the brain, heart and other organs. Potential causes of respiratory acidosis include asthma, obesity and the overuse of alcohol…but not eating acid-causing foods. However, that’s not a green light for unlimited consumption of deli meat and soda. A diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and moderate amounts of healthy protein is better for your lungs and the rest of your body!
Lung function can directly affect our moods and emotions.
Lungs and emotions are more connected than most people think. As blood flows through the lungs, many body chemicals are either inactivated or activated—including a hormone that controls blood pressure and, in women, the hormones estradiol and progesterone. For example, low progesterone can cause anxiety and a low estrogen level has been linked with depression. It goes the other way, too—emotions affect lung function. People with asthma often report that laughing or crying brings on symptoms, and people with depression often suffer reduced lung function. One easy way to help your breathing and your mood is to listen to the right kind of music!
The lungs normally have fluid in them.
It’s normal—and healthy—for lungs to have small amounts of fluids, called surfactants, to help with immune function and defend against viral and bacterial infections. But certain medical conditions, such as infection, can cause fluid to build up in the layers of tissue that line the lungs and the chest cavity—a potentially serious condition called pleural effusion. See your doctor if you develop chest pain, painful breathing or a dry, nonproductive cough and especially if deep breathing causes an increase in chest pain.
In very cold temperatures, it is common to experience wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.
If you outgrew childhood asthma, you won’t ever have it again.
Asthma, a lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe, can start at any age. Although children who have asthma when they are very young sometimes find that their symptoms go away as their lungs develop, the symptoms can return later in life…and people who never had asthma as children can develop it as adults. Asthma symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness, and possibly acute attacks can be managed with medication, coping techniques and lifestyle changes.
Lung tumors often go unnoticed because they’re pain-free.
Because there are few nerve endings in the lungs, a tumor can grow without causing pain or discomfort—one of the reasons that lung cancer is often diagnosed at later stages. But symptoms besides pain can alert you to see your doctor—a cough that doesn't go away and gets worse over time…hoarseness…wheezing or shortness of breath…frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. You can also reduce your risk for getting lung cancer by not smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke.
Pneumonia is a common lung infection that usually resolves on its own within three weeks.
Pneumonia sounds serious—and it can be—but most people who do not have other health issues recover in two to three weeks even if their symptoms are severe. However, because pneumonia can be life-threatening, it’s best to check with your doctor if you think you might have it.