The lungs are continually exposed to relatively-high O(2) tensions, and as such, in comparison with other organs, they represent a unique tissue for the damaging effects of oxidant attack. At particular times during a lifetime this every day challenge may increase exponentially. The first oxidative insult occurs at birth, when cells are exposed to a sudden 5-fold increase in O(2) concentration. Thereafter, the human lung, from infancy through to old age, can be subjected to deleterious oxidative events as a consequence of inhaling environmental pollutants or irritants, succumbing to several pulmonary diseases (including infant and adult respiratory distress syndromes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis and cancer) and receiving treatment for these diseases. The present paper will review the concept that consumption of a healthy diet and the consequent ability to establish and then maintain adequate micronutrient antioxidant concentrations in the lung throughout life, and following various oxidative insults, could prevent or reduce the incidence of oxidant-mediated respiratory diseases. Furthermore, the rationale, practicalities and complexities of boosting the antioxidant pool of the respiratory-tract lining fluid in diseases in which oxidative stress is actively involved, by direct application to the lung v. dietary modification, in order to achieve a therapeutic effect will be discussed.