Copd Healthy Lungs

If you were to look at a slice of a normal lung with the naked eye, you would find that it looks like a sponge and is filled with tiny bubbles or holes. If you were to take that same slice of lung and look at it under a microscope, you would find that around each bubble are many intricate blood vessels.

It is these blood vessels that give the lungs a large surface to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This principle of gas exchange is the purpose of the lungs.

How Healthy Lungs Work

The purpose of the lungs is two-fold: Their first job is to transfer oxygen from the air into the blood through inhalation. Their second job is to take carbon dioxide, a waste product, from the body and put it back into the air through exhalation.

The lungs’ job begins as you breathe in air through your nose and mouth. Air travels through the windpipe, or trachea, then through the two bronchi that connect the trachea to the left and right lung. The air then spreads out into smaller tubes called bronchial tubes or bronchioles.

At the end of the bronchioles are tiny air sacs called alveoli. There are many small blood vessels and capillaries that run through the thin walls of these air sacs. It is through these small blood vessels that oxygen passes from the air sacs into the blood. It is also through these blood vessels that carbon dioxide passes from the blood into the alveoli.

Through the process of exhalation, the carbon dioxide is released from the lungs into the outside environment.

Inhalation and Exhalation

The process of breathing requires both inhalation and exhalation:

  • With inhalation, the muscles of the diaphragm and rib cage contract and expand the size of the chest. This causes negative pressure within the airways and alveoli, allowing air to enter.

  • In exhalation, the same muscles relax to their resting positions, shrinking the chest and creating positive pressure within the airways and alveoli. These air sacs are normally elastic and will return to their original shape after being stretched or filled with air.

COPD’s Effect on the Lungs

A person with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) has an obstruction of the lungs caused by a chronic condition, such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

COPD sufferers will inevitably have problems with the elasticity of their airways and alveoli. As their air sacs lose elasticity and are no longer able to bounce back to their original form, these organs may stay inflated. These floppy airways will then obstruct the airflow out of the lungs.

To make matters worse, COPD causes the airways in the lungs to become inflated and thickened. The condition also causes the mucus-producing cells to produce more mucus, resulting in problems with exhalation.

COPD Treatment

To help a patient cope with the symptoms of COPD and to lessen the effects of COPD on the lungs and airways, a doctor will likely recommend the following treatments, among others:

  • anti-inflammatory medication
  • avoiding smoke
  • dietary changes
  • pulmonary exercise
  • smoking cessation
  • surgery.

It is important to note that COPD treatment aims to slow the progression of the disease and alleviate symptoms. There is no cure for COPD.


Cleveland Clinic (2005). How Your Lungs Work. Retrieved July 29, 2007, from the Cleveland Clinic Web site:

National Heart Blood and Lung Institute (2007). How the Lungs Work. Retrieved July 29, 2007, from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Web site:

Parks, Robin (2004). COPD’s Effect on the Lungs. Retrieved July 29, 2007, from Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers Web site:

Schiffman, George. (2006). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Retrieved July 29, 2007, from the Web site: