What do my lungs do?

Your lungs give oxygen to all the organs and tissues in your body. Oxygen is used throughout the body in chemical reactions to produce energy. The chemical reactions create carbon dioxide as a waste product. Carbon dioxide must then be removed from the body. This is called “gas exchange” (exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide). The lungs perform both sides of this vital gas exchange for the entire body, both taking in oxygen and removing carbon dioxide.

Your two lungs are located in the chest under the ribs. The lungs are protected and supported by the 12 pairs of ribs, the muscles which lie between the ribs, and the neck muscles. A healthy pair of lungs is soft and spongy. They are made up of elastic tissue that allows them to stretch.

The right lung is divided into three lobes, the upper, the middle and the lower lobes. The left lung is divided into two lobes, the upper and the lower lobes. The trachea (windpipe) delivers inhaled air into the lungs. The lungs themselves are made up of air passageways called bronchi. The airway branches look similar to those on a tree. Each branch becomes smaller and more numerous at each branching. The smallest of these branches end in the tiny gas exchange sacs called alveoli.


Your lungs:

  • Provide oxygen to all tissues and organs in your body through the blood
  • Protects the body from harmful substances by coughing, sneezing, filtering, or swallowing them

Learn more about the respiratory system. 

What is lung failure?

For some people, diseases will damage their lung or lungs, causing it to stop working properly. This is called lung failure.

Common causes (diseases) for lung failure are:

  1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
    • Emphysema
    • Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency
    • Bronchiolitis
    • Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM)
    • Eosinophilic granuloma
  2. Interstitial Lung Diseases
    • Pulmonary fibrosis
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Scleroderma
  3. Airway Diseases
    • Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
    • Bronchiectasis
  4. Pulmonary Hypertension
    • Idiopathic
    • Secondary: Eisenmenger's Syndrome secondary to a heart defect, or Interstitial lung diseases

How do I know if I have lung failure?

A diseased lung cannot carry out its normal functions. People with lung disease or lung failure can have the following signs and symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Sputum
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blue tinge to finger nails or lips

Please note that not everyone will experience the same symptoms.

Why would I need a lung transplant?

Depending on your type of lung disease, the only treatment for lung failure is to have a single (one lung) transplant or a bilateral (double) lung transplant.

We will help you understand the benefits and risks of having a lung transplant. This will give you the information to make an informed decision. If a transplant is recommended, the decision to proceed is up to you. We will support your choice whether you go forward with a transplant or not.

Some advantages and disadvantages are:


Many recipients experience:

  • Less shortness of breath
  • More energy
  • Fewer restrictions
  • A better quality of life
  • A longer life with a transplant


All recipients have:

  • Transplant medications for the rest of their life to control rejection
  • Follow-up transplant care for the rest of their life
  • Side effects from the medications
  • A greater risk for infection after transplant
  • Other medical complications

Our goal is to make your transplant as safe and as successful as possible. We will do everything we can to make your transplant work for you. We will work with you in making care decisions and help you to understand your treatments.

Who can have a lung transplant?

Most patients with advanced lung disease can be considered for a lung transplant. If you are interested in learning more about a lung transplant, talk to your doctor and ask him/her to fill out the Physician Referral form .

After you have been referred from your lung doctor to the UHN Lung Transplant Program, you will go through an evaluation process to find out if you are eligible for a lung transplant.

Who can be my donor?

Lungs for transplantation can come from:

Deceased Donors

People who pass away and their family member wishes to donate their loved ones organs. In Ontario, Trillium Gift of Life Network is the organization that takes care of the organ sharing system in Ontario.

Living Donors

Healthy people who wish to donate a portion of their lung. Living donor lung transplants are managed by the hospital. Your living lung donor could be your spouse, a family member, a friend, a coworker or even a stranger. Don't count anyone out as a possible donor.

The UHN Lung Transplant Program will work with you to find out if your possible donor is a match with you and can donate a portion of their lungs to help you.

How long will I have to wait for a lung transplant?

The amount of time that you may have to wait for a lung transplant is unknown.

Once you have been accepted for a transplant, there are several criteria to match a donor with the recipient:

  1. Your blood type (ABO blood group)
  2. Your lung size (taken from your pulmonary function tests)
  3. If more than one recipient matches the donor blood type and approximate size, the surgeons will choose the recipient who is sicker.
  4. Time on the waiting list may be the deciding factor of who receives a transplant.
  5. Whether you have a Living Donor. If you have a living donor your wait time can potentially be reduced.

Back to Top