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Your lungs

We need oxygen to live. When we breathe in we take oxygen from the air into the lungs where it passes into the blood. The heart pumps this oxygen-rich blood to our organs and tissues. Carbon dioxide, a waste product from the tissues, is taken back to the lungs in the blood and we breathe this out.

There are two lungs in the thoracic (chest) cavity. They are made of spongy tissue and divided into lobes. Air is drawn in through the nose and mouth and passes into a tube called the bronchus. This divides into smaller tubes, the bronchioles, which end in air sacs, alveoli, that have a rich blood supply.

A large sheet of muscle, the diaphragm, separates the chest from the abdomen. The diaphragm controls breathing. The outside of the lungs and the inside of the thoracic cavity are lined by the pleura. The pleura allows the lungs to breathe in and out smoothly.

Common lung diseases treated by chest specialists and thoracic surgeons

Pneumothorax: if air enters the space between your lung and the chest wall it causes a pneumothorax – a collapsed lung. This can be corrected by putting a tube into the space to release the air

Pleural effusion: this is a collection of fluid in the chest between the lung and the pleura (the lining of the lung). The pressure on the lung stops us breathing properly and the fluid has to be drained off through a tube.

Empyema: this is a collection of pus in the pleural space. (Pus is a yellow-white fluid made by the body in infected areas. It is made up of dead white blood cells). This is treated either medically (using antibiotics) or surgically.

Pneumonia: A common lung infection caused by bacteria or viruses.