The respiratory system isn't just breathing in and out: It's a complex system that brings oxygen to all of the body's cells. After five minutes without taking any oxygen into your body, your brain cells begin to die: That's how important the respiratory system is. But how does it work, and how can we make sure our lungs are clean and healthy?

What Is the Respiratory System?

The respiratory system is a set of processes designed to carry oxygen into your body and carbon dioxide out. This begins by breathing in through your lungs. The oxygen is pulled into the alveoli, tiny sacs surrounded by blood vessels. The oxygen is absorbed into the blood, and it's carried to the cells to be exchanged for carbon dioxide; this exchange is called internal respiration. Then, the carbon dioxide is carried back to the lungs to be exhaled.

About the Lungs

A lot of people imagine the lungs as big bags of air in the middle of their chest, but that doesn't really paint an accurate picture. Each lung is filled with bronchi and bronchioles, tiny interconnected tubes that look a bit like an upside-down tree. Breathing fills these tubes, and then at the end, in the alveolithe oxygen passes into the bloodstream.

Lung Diseases

Diseases of the lung and respiratory system can range from mild to incredibly dangerous. On the mild side, asthma is one of the most common respiratory diseases. When you have asthma, you struggle to breathe and may use an inhaler for certain activities. One of the more serious respiratory ailments is lung cancer. Mesothelioma is also a severe health issue; it's a form of lung cancer that is usually caused by exposure to asbestos. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is another common respiratory disease to be aware of. It can take years to appear but can often be prevented by simply avoiding smoking. This is the number one way to avoid most of the worst respiratory diseases: Do not smoke, and if you already smoke, quit.

  • Lung Disease: This quick overview covers the most common diseases that can affect the lungs.
  • Eight Common Respiratory Illnesses and Diseases: Learn about some of the most frequently diagnosed lung ailments here.
  • Chronic Respiratory Diseases: Hundreds of millions of people all over the world suffer from a variety of respiratory illnesses. Learn all about them from the World Health Organization.
  • Respiratory Diseases: This article looks at what we know about these diseases and what experts are studying to try to help people be healthier.
  • Prevent Respiratory Diseases: Follow this advice to keep your airways in peak condition.
  • Lung Cancer: Lung cancer can have a variety of causes and often drastically shortens a person's life.
  • Understanding Asthma: Asthma is one of the most common respiratory diseases, but with careful management and treatment, it can be controlled.
  • Occupational Respiratory Disease: Sometimes, people are exposed to toxins on the job that cause respiratory problems.
  • Facts About Mesothelioma: Asbestos exposure is the most common cause of this type of cancer, which often affects the membrane around the lungs.
  • COPD Overview: The Mayo Clinic can teach you about this common disease associated with the respiratory system.
  • Basics About COPD: The CDC offers tips on COPD's causes and treatment.