This Is What COPD Looks Like in the Lungs

COPD Images and Image Galleries

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary, disease is a blanket term used to describe both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Usually caused by cigarette smoking, these diseases can on occasion occur due to external environmental factors.

The images and gallery links below show healthy lungs and lungs that have become diseased due to COPD.


Illustration of Chronic Bronchitis

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Medical illustration of bronchitis

Stocktrek Images / Getty Images

The bronchial tubes are the large airways that branch off of the trachea bringing air into and out of the lungs.   

Bronchitis is a condition where a heavy lining of mucus forms on the inside of the bronchial tubes, usually from an irritant, like cigarette smoke. 

Bronchitis can also be triggered by an infection brought on by a cold. Smokers are prone to having colds develop into bronchitis because their delicate bronchial tissues are already compromised from cigarette smoke. Also known as a "chest cold", this type of bronchitis is considered acute.

For long-term smokers, bronchitis can become a chronic condition lasting for years or life where this inflammation is always present (because cigarettes smoke is always present).

This illustration shows a build-up of inflammation that occurs in the mucus membrane that lines the bronchial tubes in a person with chronic bronchitis.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis are a cough that often produces phlegm and feelings of breathlessness due to constricted airways.


Illustration of Damaged Alveoli (Emphysema)

normal and damaged alveoli
Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

People with emphysema have a severely diminished ability to breathe because the alveoli in their lungs have become damaged. 

Alveoli are very tiny air pockets or sacs that are at the ends of the airways in our lungs. Alveoli sacs take oxygen from the air we breathe in and pass it through to the bloodstream. The waste gas, carbon dioxide exits via the alveoli when we exhale. 

Over time, the toxins in cigarette smoke break down the walls between these tiny little air pockets, creating bigger air sacs instead. This is bad for breathing, because bigger sacs mean less surface area for the gas/blood exchange. 

People with emphysema are not able to get enough oxygen out of the air they breathe, which is why they often have to supplement it with bottled air.

Emphysema is not a curable disease, but its progression can be slowed or even stopped if one quits smoking soon enough.


Picture of Normal Human (Left) Lung

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

normal human lung

Matt Meadows / Photolibrary / Getty Images

 A normal human lung is pink and spongy, filled with an intricate system of airways and thousands of tiny aveoli sacs.  


Picture of Emphysema Human (Right) Lung

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

​human lung with emphysema

Matt Meadows / Photolibrary / Getty Images

This image shows a right human lung with emphysema and blackened by tar, which is a residue left behind from the chemicals in cigarette smoke.


The Respiratory System Image Gallery

Healthy lungs, artwork

Science Photo Library - PIXOLOGICSTUDIO/Getty Images

In order to see how COPD impairs lung function, it helps to understand how the lungs function and what they look like when they're healthy. Take a tour of the human respiratory system in this image gallery.


COPD Complications Image Gallery

Human respiratory system


The diseases that fall under the umbrella of COPD are reviewed in this image gallery.

Quit Smoking Now

For the most part, COPD is a smoker's disease and is preventable if you stop smoking soon enough. And, while smoking cessation is hard work initially for most people, the discomforts are temporary.

Lasting release from nicotine addiction is possible and worth the work it takes to achieve.

Quit now.

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