Aging changes in the lungs
The lungs have two main functions. One is to get oxygen from the air into the body. The other is to remove carbon dioxide from the body. Your body needs oxygen to work properly. Carbon dioxide is a gas the body produces when it uses oxygen.
During breathing, air enters and exits the lungs. When you breathe in (inhale), air flows through the airways into the lungs. The airways are made of stretchy tissue. Bands of muscle and other support tissue wrap around each airway to help keep them open.
Air keeps flowing into the lungs until it fills tiny air sacs. Blood circulates around these air sacs through tiny blood vessels. Oxygen crosses into the bloodstream at the place where the blood vessels and air sacs meet. This is also where carbon dioxide crosses from the bloodstream into the lungs to be breathed out (exhaled).
AGING CHANGES IN YOUR BODY AND THEIR AFFECTS ON THE LUNGS
Changes to the bones and muscles of the chest and spine:
These changes in your bones and muscles may lower the oxygen level in your body. Also, less carbon dioxide may be removed from your body. Symptoms such as tiredness and shortness of breath can result.
Changes to lung tissue:
These changes in lung tissue can allow air to get trapped in your lungs. Too little oxygen may enter your blood vessels and less carbon dioxide may be removed. This makes it hard to breathe.
Changes to the nervous system:
Changes to the immune system:
As a result of these changes, older people are at increased risk for:
To decrease the effects of aging on the lungs:
OTHER CHANGES RELATED TO AGING
As you grow older, you will have other changes, including:
Amin P, Smith AM. Pulmonary disease. In: Ham RJ, Sloane PD, Warshaw GA, Potter JF, Flaherty E, eds. Ham's Primary Care Geriatrics: A Case-Based Approach. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 48.
Davies GA, Bolton CE. Age-related changes in the respiratory system. In: Fillit HM, Rockwood K, Young J, eds. Brocklehurst's Textbook of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 17.
Walston JD. Common clinical sequelae of aging. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 25.
Review Date: 7/12/2018
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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