Rachel obtained a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Grove City College. She then earned her Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Nursing from Thomas Jefferson University. For over 8 years, Rachel has practiced as a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner, and taught science to elementary aged students.
What Do Lungs Do?
Take a deep breath. Wasn't that amazing!? Well, a deep breath may not seem that amazing, but by the end of this lesson, you'll have a deeper appreciation for this simple action.
Your lungs are the major organs that help with breathing. When you breathe in, your lungs fill with air. When we say 'air,' we actually mean a mixture of many types of gases: nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, to name a few.
One of the major jobs of the lungs is to filter the air and pull out the oxygen. The oxygen is then passed to your blood. Your blood delivers the oxygen to all the tissues in your body, which use the oxygen to perform important functions. Your tissues then dump waste gases back into the blood. The blood carries the waste gases back to the lungs, which then help to expel these waste gases, mainly carbon dioxide. This ongoing process is known as gas exchange.
Gas exchange may seem like a very fancy term, but it's really simple if you break it down. 'Exchange' means to switch something. For example, say your parent buys you pants that are too small, so you go to the store and exchange the small pants for larger pants you can actually use. That's like what's happening here, but instead of pants, gases are being exchanged. Your lungs are exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen it can use with every breath. So cool, right!? That deep breath you took is looking more impressive.
How Does Air Get to the Lungs?
Gas exchange is incredibly exciting, but let's back up a bit and examine how the air reaches your lungs in the first place. This may seem obvious: It starts when you breathe in through your nose or mouth. The air is then warmed and moisturized as it travels down your windpipe, or trachea.
The trachea divides into two slightly smaller passageways, known as bronchi, so the air then must make a choice about direction. One bronchus leads to the right lung, and one bronchus leads to the left lung. Either way, we both know what's going to happen to that air once it reaches the lungs. Say it with me: gas exchange!
The next time someone asks you, 'What did you do today?' tell them, 'I breathed air in through my nose. The air went down my trachea, into my bronchi and then into my lungs. Once there, my lungs performed gas exchange, switching oxygen for carbon dioxide. And I did it all before I even got out of bed!'
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