Lungs are one of the most essential organs needed to survive. This is mainly because the lungs play a crucial part in respiration or breathing. Without lungs, breathing is impossible, and there is no life without respiration. It is, therefore, essential to monitor lung health at all times. In this write-up, we will look at the functions of the lungs, how to test lung capacity at home, and how to take good care of your lungs.
1. What are lungs?
Lungs are spongy in texture and pinkish-gray in colour. Each of us has a pair of lungs inside our chest. Lungs are enclosed within a pleural sac, which contains pleural fluid that prevents friction while sliding inner and outer walls.
2. What are the functions of the lungs?
Lungs have multiple functions in our body, but the main ones are those related to the functioning of the respiratory system. The functions of the lungs are stated below:
- These organs engage in filtering small blood clots as well as air bubbles.
- Lungs act as shock absorbers for your heart in case of a mild collision.
- They also act as blood reservoirs (varying from 500 ml to 1000 ml).
- Airflow through your lungs enables speech.
- Lungs also help release carbon dioxide from our body into the atmosphere, which is the process of gaseous exchange.
3. What are the types of lung diseases?
There are three main types of lung diseases. They are:
3.1. Airway Diseases
These lung diseases primarily affect the tubes or airways that carry oxygen and other gases in and out of your lungs. Airway diseases generally cause narrowing or even blockage of the airways. Some such diseases include COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), asthma, bronchiolitis, and bronchiectasis. People with such diseases often feel like they are breathing out through a tube.
3.2. Lung Tissue Diseases
These diseases affect the structure of your lung tissue; scarring or inflammation of lung tissues will make the lungs unable to expand fully (also known as restrictive lung disease). This, in turn, will cause difficulty in inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide. According to some, suffering from lung tissue diseases gives you the feeling of always wearing a very tight sweater or vest. People with lung tissue diseases face breathing difficulties and cannot breathe deeply. Examples of lung tissue diseases include pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis.
3.3. Lung Circulation Diseases
Lung circulation diseases affect the blood vessels present in your lungs. This type of lung disease occurs due to clotting, scarring, or inflammation of the blood vessels in the lungs. They affect the lungs’ ability to take up oxygen and release carbon dioxide and affect the functioning of the patient’s heart. Pulmonary hypertension is an example of a lung circulation disease. Patients with this type of lung disease feel short of breath when exerting themselves.
4. What are the most common lung diseases?
Here is a list of the most common lung diseases:
Asthma is more commonly found in female adults compared to male adults. About 10.8% of female adults have asthma, while about 6.5% of male adults have asthma. Unfortunately, asthma is also a leading chronic disease in children. Asthma can have a severe impact on a person and can even be fatal.
4.2. Pneumothorax or Atelectasis (Collapse of a part of all of a lung)
This rare condition occurs when air enters the pleural space (the space between the chest wall and lung). It causes chest pain as well as difficulty in breathing. Pneumothorax requires immediate medical care or may even be life-threatening. Types of collapsed lung are:
4.2.1. Primary spontaneous pneumothorax
Pneumothorax can be found in people with no other pulmonary or lung issues. The primary automatic form of this condition is generally caused due to the rupture of a small subpleural emphysematous vesicle or a subpleural paraseptal emphysematous lesion. In simpler words, it could occur due to abnormal lung air sacs that tend to break apart and release air.
4.2.2. Secondary spontaneous pneumothorax
Pneumothorax can be caused due to other underlying lung problems. Patients with conditions such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder), tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis and emphysema are susceptible to the collapse of the lung. This is known as secondary spontaneous pneumothorax.
4.2.3. Injury-related Pneumothorax
Injury to the chest can also cause a collapsed lung or pneumothorax. It may be due to several serious injuries such as a fractured rib, a gunshot wound, a knife or a brutal hit on your chest. Such blunt force may damage the lungs and airways, leading to pneumothorax.
4.2.4. Iatrogenic Pneumothorax
Iatrogenic pneumothorax refers to the collapse of the lung that occurs after invasive or surgical procedures. All cases of iatrogenic pneumothorax during the period 1923-1987 were documented. The leading causes of it were transthoracic needle aspiration, subclavicular needle stick, thoracentesis, transbronchial biopsy, pleural biopsy, and positive pressure ventilation.
4.2.5. Catamenial Pneumothorax
This condition is rare and typically affects women who have endometriosis. In endometriosis, the endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus and attaches to an area inside the patient’s chest. The tissue then forms cysts that bleed into the pleural space and cause the lung to collapse.
4.3. Bronchitis (Swelling and Inflammation in the Bronchial Tubes)
Bronchial tubes are the main passages through which air enters and exits your lungs. In the case of bronchitis, these tubes get inflamed and fill up with mucus. Patients experience a nagging cough that lasts for a couple of weeks or more. A virus primarily causes acute bronchitis and goes away independently, whereas chronic bronchitis never really goes away but is manageable.
4.4. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
This chronic inflammatory lung disease is caused by damage to the airways or other parts of the lung. Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease include difficulty in breathing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath, to mention a few. As COPD is a progressive disease, the symptoms generally develop gradually and get worse with time, to the extent that it starts having an impact on your ability to perform routine activities such as walking and cooking.
4.5. Lung Cancer
Today, lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the leading cause of cancer deaths all over the world. Lung cancer usually starts in the bronchi (airways) or alveoli (tiny air sacs). Lung cancer has two primary kinds. They are:
4.5.1. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
This is the most common kind of lung cancer and accounts for over 80 percent of the cases of lung cancer. Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are common types of non-small lung cancer, while adenosquamous carcinoma and sarcomatoid carcinoma are less common types.
4.5.2. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
This type of lung cancer is often found in the form of a small lung tumour that has already spread to other parts of the patient’s body. Small cell lung cancer proliferates and is more challenging to treat than non-small. Specific types of SCLC include small cell carcinoma (or oat cell carcinoma) and combined small cell carcinoma.
4.5.3. Other types of cancer in the lungs
Some other types of cancer in the lungs are:
- Lymphomas (cancer in lymph nodes)
- Sarcomas (cancer in bones or soft tissue)
- Pleural mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs)
These aren’t usually referred to as lung cancers and are treated quite differently than the main types of lung cancers.
Pneumonia is a lung infection that may affect one or both lungs. This condition causes inflammation in the air sacs, which may then fill up with fluid or pus, causing various symptoms such as cough with phlegm, fever, and breathing difficulties. Pneumonia is a serious condition and can even cause death.
The most severe cases occur in infants and young children, people above the age of 65, and people with other health issues or a weak immune system. Symptoms of this condition are similar to the flu (fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, shaking, nausea etc.), but they last much longer.
4.7. Pulmonary Edema (Abnormal build-up of fluid in the lungs)
Pulmonary edema or abnormal build-up of fluid in the lungs, is often caused due to congestive heart failure. Other causes could be pneumonia, exposure to certain toxins or drugs, and renal failure at high elevations. Patients with this may experience mild or even severe breathing problems. Other symptoms include chest pain and fatigue.
4.8. Pulmonary Embolism (Blocked lung artery)
This condition occurs when a clump of material (most often a blood clot) gets stuck in any artery present in lungs and blocks blood flow. Pulmonary embolism is life-threatening and could cause death very quickly; in fact, it is the third leading cause of cardiovascular death. Symptoms of this condition include chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, palpitations, and even dizziness. Doctors generally categorize pulmonary embolism as acute, subacute, or chronic.
5. How do you test lung capacity at home?
There are several effective ways to test your lung capacity at home. They are:
5.1. Peak Flow Test
This is one of the most effective ways to test your lung capacity at home. A device known as the peak flow meter is required to take this test. This device measures how quickly you can expel air from your lungs. Asthma patients often use a peak flow meter to monitor their lung function. To take this test, firstly, you need to stand up straight take a deep breath and fill your lungs with air. Then, seal your lips around the mouthpiece of the peak flow meter and blow as hard as you can. Repeat this test thrice and record the highest value. Please make sure you use the same device for consistency.
As we all know, spirometry is the simplest and most effective way to test lung function. Though this test is usually performed in clinics under the supervision of trained individuals, today home spirometers are also available that are easy to use and give accurate results. The spirometry test can give you proper measures of your vital capacity, forced expiratory volume, and other lung parameters. Please ensure you follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer properly to get the best results.
5.3. Pulse Oximetry
You can use the ‘pulse oximeter’ to measure oxygen saturation in your blood. You must clip the device to your fingertips to get proper measurements in less than a minute. This will show you how well your lungs are oxygenating your body (which is a great way to understand lung functioning). The average measurements are 95% or higher. You may have a lung or pulmonary issue if you get lower results consistently.
5.4. Holding Your Breath Test
This simple, straightforward test will give you a rough idea of your lung capacity. First, you have to sit or stand in a comfortable position and take a deep breath. Then, hold your breath as long as you can and compare your timing with the average timing of your age group.
5.5. Cough Test
Coughing forcefully can also give you an estimate of your lung condition and functioning. Take a deep breath and cough as hard as you can to see the strength and effectiveness of your cough. If the cough is weak or unproductive, it indicates a potential lung problem.
As lungs support our survival, we must take good care of them. Avoid smoking at all costs, as cigarette smokers are at a high risk of developing lung problems, especially lung cancer.
Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, practise breathing exercises and drink plenty of water throughout the day to maintain good lung health. In case you notice symptoms like shortness of breath, consistent mild or severe chest pain, other symptoms that align with pulmonary issues, or even a cough that does not go away even after weeks, consult a doctor immediately and get help.