Although oxygen is a prerequisite to life, at concentrations beyond the physiological limits it may be hazardous to the cells. Since the lungs are directly exposed to very high amounts of oxygen, it is imperative for the organ to possess defences against possible oxidative challenge. The lungs are therefore endowed with an armamentarium of a battery of endogenous agents called antioxidants. The antioxidant species help the lungs ward off the deleterious consequences of a wide variety of oxidants/reactive oxygen species such as superoxide anion, hydroxyl radical, hypohalite radical, hydrogen peroxide and reactive nitrogen species such as nitric oxide, peroxynitrite, nitrite produced endogenously and sometimes accessed through exposure to the environment. The major non-enzymatic antioxidants of the lungs are glutathione, vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, uric acid and the enzymatic antioxidants are superoxide dismutases, catalase and peroxidases. These antioxidants are the first lines of defence against the oxidants and usually act at a gross level. Recent insights into cellular redox chemistry have revealed the presence of certain specialized proteins such as peroxiredoxins, thioredoxins, glutaredoxins, heme oxygenases and reductases, which are involved in cellular adaptation and protection against an oxidative assault. These molecules usually exert their action at a more subtle level of cellular signaling processes. Aberrations in oxidant: antioxidant balance can lead to a variety of airway diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which is the topic of discussion in this review.