Coughing and Other Respiratory Symptoms Improve Within Weeks of Smoking Cessation

If the proven long-term benefits of smoking cessation are not enough to motivate young adults to stop smoking, a new study shows that 18- to 24-year olds who stop smoking for at least two weeks report substantially fewer respiratory symptoms, especially coughing. The study findings are detailed in Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. The article is available online.

Karen Calabro, DrPH and Alexander Prokhorov, MD, PhD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, compared self-reported respiratory symptoms among two groups of college students who participated in programs designed to motivate them to stop smoking. One group achieved smoking cessation for two weeks or longer and the other group failed to stop smoking. More than half of the students smoked 5-10 cigarettes a day and had smoked for 1-5 years.

“That the benefit of stopping smoking starts in days to weeks–not years or decades–is important. Now health care providers can counsel young smokers that their breathing can feel better soon after they stop. This can help to motivate young adults to stop smoking before the severe damage is done,” says Harold Farber, MD, MSPH, Editor of Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Pulmonology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX.

Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal published in print and online. The Journal synthesizes the pulmonary, allergy, and immunology communities in the advancement of the respiratory health of children. The Journal provides comprehensive coverage to further the understanding and optimize the treatment of some of the most common and costly chronic illnesses in children. It includes original translational, clinical and epidemiologic research; public health, quality improvement, and case control studies; patient education research; and the latest research and standards of care for functional and genetic immune deficiencies and interstitial lung diseases. Tables of content and a free sample issue may be viewed online.

When we smoke and for all the years that we smoked each and every puff on a cigarette destroyed the cilia, or tiny little hair-like projections lining our respiratory tract.  These cilia are responsible for filtering out all the impurities we breathe on a daily basis.  They line our nose and reach all the way down into our lungs.  When we quit smoking, the first thing, essentially to start repairing itself, is the respiratory tract…...and as soon as we take the last puff, the cilia start to regenerate themselves.  In some people these cilia grow back faster than others.

Coughing is a natural byproduct of the reemerging cilia.  It makes no difference how long or how much you smoked, the rate of regrowth can and is different in most of us.  The faster the cilia grow, the more likely we are to cough lots in the first weeks of a quit.  Our bodies are healing and our lungs are clearing themselves of all the toxins and impurities.

But whether your cilia grow back rapidly and we cough lots or slowly and we cough little….any cough lasting more that a few weeks and is persistant and is accompanied by pain and or fever, should be checked by a qualified physcian.  The body heals remarkedly fast but smoking often covers a variety of other illnesses and conditions and a lingering cough should not always be associated with quitting smoking.  It’s a great idea for any of us quitting to have our lungs checked out afterwards.  It really does help with peace of mind.

All recent quitters need to be aware of two things thta can happen when getting cold or flu near the time that they quit smoking. First, a cold may be more annoying than normal. If anyone gets a cold within a few months of a quit, it is often a really uncomfortable one. The reason being not only are you producing excessive mucous from the infection itself, but since your Cilia are still in the process of cleaning out of the built up mucous that has been accumulated over the years and decades that never had a chance of coming out before, the amount of congestion and the symptoms can really make a person miserable.
Also, with nerve cells that have now regenerated throughout your whole respiratory tract functioning normally, you can feel pain and irritation that were dulled when you were a smoker. It may have taken you a little longer as a smoker to even know when you were getting sick. With impaired nerve cells you may not have felt earlier symptoms, or if you did you may not have been able to differentiate what was just an effect of smoking too much or of actually having some sort of infection. With nerve cells back in place you are likely not going to be overly tempted to smoke for the concept of pouring hot irritating smoke on an already irritated throat is generally not a pleasant thought.

Where you do have to be careful and aware is that when your cold starts to dissipate, you might get stronger than normal thoughts for cigarettes. For while you likely cut back on cigarette consumption when you were a smoker with a cold, when you started to get better you would have to make up for lost time, or more accurately, for lower than normal nicotine levels since you had instinctively cut cigarettes down to a bare minimum in those times. This makes the first time getting well a potentially powerful trigger. Just be aware of the fact and it will help you to minimize the effect. Then know that over your lifetime, your colds will probably be less frequent, resolve quicker and be less severe as long as you always remember to never take another puff!


Vicki Cohn, (914) 740-2156, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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