Our lungs are not designed to handle consistent exposure to smoke and toxins. Smoking is unnatural for the body – so when we smoke, our lungs try to protect us by expelling the toxins.
So, if you’re a smoker, this may be the reason why you have a nagging and persistent cough.
A smoker’s cough is usually easy to distinguish from regular coughing.
While most smokers’ coughs are short-term reactions to smoking, they can occasionally be a symptom of a more serious disease. So, what exactly is a smoker’s cough, and will it ever stop?
What Is A Smokers Cough?
If you’re a long-term smoker, you’ll probably develop a smoker’s cough.
This cough is persistent (lasting more than three weeks), and it’s usually phlegmy rather than dry. Other symptoms of a smoker’s cough may include chest pain, wheezing, and phlegm.
Your smoker’s cough may be worse in the morning and then gradually improve as the day goes on.
Unfortunately, symptoms of a smoker’s cough worsen with time unless you quit smoking.
What Causes Smokers Cough?
A smoker’s cough is caused by damage in your airways inflicted by the toxins in cigarette smoke.
This is because the chemicals we inhale when we smoke can cause changes and inflammation in the airways.
Over time, the smoke and chemicals in cigarettes damage the small hairs (cilia) in our airways.
A smoker’s cough is the body’s way of trying to expel the toxins in your airways.
Is Smokers Cough Serious?
If you’re a long-term smoker who’s developed a smoker’s cough, you may not give a second thought to your symptoms.
But is there any chance that your smoker’s cough could be serious, and should you be paying attention?
Over time, smoking may increase your risk of developing conditions such as COPD, cancer, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
A cough can be a sign of any of these conditions.
For this reason, if you’ve developed a new cough or you’ve developed any new symptoms with your cough, you should talk to a doctor.
If you’re a smoker, you should go for regular medical checkups to monitor your symptoms.
This will also increase your chances of detecting the symptoms of a more serious condition in its early stages.
In most cases, your smoker’s cough is a short-term reaction to smoking.
When you don’t smoke, your symptoms should clear up.
However, a nagging, persistent cough can also be one of the first signs of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor.
Smokers Cough: The Complications
Even if your smoker’s cough is nothing more than a temporary reaction to smoking, this doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
There are several complications associated with a smoker’s cough, most of which develop due to the damage caused to the cilia in your airways.
The risk of developing complications from your smoker’s cough will depend on how frequently you smoke, how long you’ve been smoking, and the state of your general health and wellbeing.
Some of the most common complications of smoker’s cough include
- Damage to the throat
- A long-term cough and irritation in the chest
- Changes in your voice (such as hoarseness)
- Increase risk of viral respiratory and bacterial infections
Cilia, the microscopic hair-like structures found in the airways, help our bodies secrete mucus and move debris and microbes out of the way. When we smoke, our cilia are damaged.
This may lead to a build-up of chemicals in the airways and lungs, which can contribute to the development of the following conditions.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the term used to describe a group of lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
People with COPD struggle to expel air from the airways with ease because the airflow is obstructed. There’s no cure for COPD, and it can be fatal.
Pneumonia is a type of inflammation that attacks the air sacs in one or both lungs.
It’s usually caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses, or chemical irritants such as cigarette smoke. When you have pneumonia, your air sacs become inflamed, which can cause a cough, pus, phlegm, chills, a fever, and breathing difficulties.
Most people respond well to treatment, but pneumonia can still be serious and sometimes fatal.
Emphysema is a lung condition that damages the air sacs in the lungs. These air sacs gradually begin to rupture and weaken.
Symptoms such as tightness in the chest, a whistling sound when you breathe, a cough that produces mucus, and shortness of breath may all be signs of emphysema.
Unfortunately, most patients with emphysema aren’t diagnosed until stage two or three, meaning the prognosis is often poor.
The average life expectancy of a patient with emphysema is approximately five years.
Bronchitis is an inflammation in the lungs that happens when the bronchial tubes that carry air into your lungs become swollen or inflamed. Bronchitis can be either acute or chronic.
Symptoms of bronchitis can include tiredness, aches and pains, a frequent cough that produces mucus, headaches, and a runny or blocked nose. The majority of acute bronchitis cases are non-life-threatening.
However, bronchitis can occasionally lead to complications such as pneumonia and respiratory failure, which can be deadly.
Chronic bronchitis is more serious, and although symptoms may ebb and flow in severity, they never completely disappear.
Lung cancer happens when cells in the body grow out of control. Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and it forms in the tissues of the lung.
Symptoms of lung cancer can include a cough that doesn’t go after two or three weeks, recurrent chest infections, coughing up blood, breathlessness, tiredness, and a lack of energy.
You may also experience aches or pains when coughing or breathing. Lung cancer often has a poor prognosis, with an average five-year survival rate of 18.6 percent.
Does Smokers Cough Go Away?
In most cases, smokers’ cough will go away when you stop smoking. However, it can last anywhere between a few days or weeks, to indefinitely.
How To Treat Smoker’s Cough
The most effective way to get rid of your smoker’s cough is to quit smoking. However, it’s not always this easy.
If you’re not ready to quit, here are a few things you can try to alleviate the symptoms of your smoker’s cough.
- Stay hydrates
- Use cough drops or lozenges
- Gargle saltwater
- Elevate your head while you sleep to prevent mucus gathering in your throat
- Avoiding alcohol and coffee can lessen the severity of your cough
If your smoker’s cough isn’t a sign of a more serious condition, reducing the amount you smoke should lessen your symptoms.
However, if you’re struggling to manage your symptoms with any of the above methods, talk to a doctor.
The Bottom Line
Even if your smoker’s cough isn’t a sign of a deeper issue, quitting smoking is the best way to get rid of your symptoms and reduce the risk of developing more serious complications in the future.
If you’re concerned that your smoker’s cough may be an indicator of something more serious, talk to a medical professional.
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