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Lungs Are for Living

Unless you breathe in the oxygen your body needs, you will die within minutes. That's why it's important to look after your lungs and why this section provides information to help you make healthy choices.

A second ago you inhaled about a half-litre of air. Without even thinking about it. Just now you exhaled. Before a full minute races by, you will breathe in and out about 10 or 15 times – for as long as you live.

In that half-litre of air you just inhaled there were millions of particles you cannot see. Whether you live in the city or in the country, there are dirt, dust, specks of soot and a host of other irritants and harmful pollutants. Cars, trucks, power plants, incinerators, and furnaces spew hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide and other harmful pollutants into the air that you breathe into your lungs.

arrow read about air quality advisories
arrow read about smog in Ontario
arrow read how you can do your share to clear the air

If you smoke, you inhale gases like carbon monoxide as well as tars and nicotine directly into your lungs. Tars stain your lungs and can cause cancer. Nicotine narrows your blood vessels and cuts down the flow of oxygen to your body. Carbon monoxide literally drives out oxygen from your red blood cells. Even one puff on a cigarette seriously disrupts the flow.

arrow read about smoking in Ontario
arrow read about second-hand smoke

Did you know...
  • One in five Canadians – six million adults and children – has a respiratory problem.
  • The major cause of chronic obstructive lung disease is cigarette smoking. Air pollution may make the condition worse.
  • Emphysema is one of the major causes of death in Canada today. There is no cure for emphysema.
  • A cough you can't shake may be a symptom of the lung disease called bronchitis.
  • There are about 2000 new cases of tuberculosis (TB) in Canada each year.

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How do lungs work?
Every time you breathe in (inspiration), air travels from the nose or mouth, through the voice box (larynx), and down the windpipe (trachea), which then branches into the main bronchial tubes with one going into each of the two lungs.

The bronchial tubes keep dividing, becoming narrower and narrower in the process. At the end of the smallest airways are the alveoli, tiny air sacs that look like clusters of grapes. There are 300 million alveoli in the lungs – if you laid them side by side, they would cover a tennis court.

The alveoli are the "work horses" of the lungs since it's here that the oxygen from the air is soaked up by blood, at the same time that the blood dumps carbon dioxide, which the body cannot use, back into the alveoli. The blood then distributes the oxygen throughout the body so it can produce energy, and the carbon dioxide is breathed out (expiration).

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For more information about your lungs:
read Lung Facts
call The Lung Association's Information Line at 1-800-972-2636


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
Click here for a list of resources.

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Smoking & Tobacco

Smoking and tobacco.
For facts, figures & other reasons to never smoke, visit our online resource centre.

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Lungs Alarming lung facts.
Canadian Stats & Facts: They're enough to leave you breathless.

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Lungs Are For Life
Our school program to help students not smoke.

When you can't BREATHE, nothing else MATTERS.
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