Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

Individuals who have been smoking for a long period of time, are familiar with the side effect of smoking, which is smoker's cough. Smoking is not necessarily limited to only cigarettes, the same holds true for cigars, vaporizers, hookah, anything. When you smoke, you end up inhaling many chemical ingredients that tend to get stuck in your throat and lungs. When these chemicals get stuck, the body's natural way of clearing out the airways is to cough. Coughing tends to last for a longer period of time after you undertake an extended period of smoking. This extended coughing is known as smoker's cough. Smoker's cough is different from regular coughing and if you are a chronic smoker, then the problem of smoker's cough can also become a chronic problem. Let's find out more about smoker's cough and how you can deal with it.

What is Smoker’s Cough?

What is Smoker’s Cough?

A persistent cough that develops in chronic or long-term smokers is known as a smoker's cough. By a chronic cough, we mean a cough that is present for more than three to four weeks. It may start off as a dry cough in individuals who have not been smoking for too long, but over a period of time (the longer you continue to smoke), the cough starts producing phlegm or sputum, turning into a wet or a productive cough. This can be clear, yellow, white, brown, or even green.

What is the Difference Between a Regular Cough and Smoker's Cough?

Smoker's cough also sounds different from regular coughing as it can involve wheezing or a crackling noise because of the phlegm present in your throat. Smoker's cough becomes chronic if you are a daily smoker and over a period of time, it can also make your lungs and throat hurt. Smoker's cough is also worse when you wake up in the morning and then gets better over the duration of the day.

A smoker's cough can also give rise to a postnasal drip. This is a situation that causes mucus to leak into your throat, causing you to cough again and again, clear your throat making your persistent cough worse. There are many ways of soothing your throat and of managing the irritation from smoker’s cough.

The Pathophysiology Behind Smoker’s Cough: What Causes a Smoker’s Cough?

Your airway is lined with tiny hair-like cells that are known as cilia. The cilia are responsible for catching any toxins that are present in the inhaled air. They then move these toxins upwards towards the mouth and the body coughs to expel them out. Due to persistent smoking, these cells become paralyzed and are unable to perform their job.

The reason they become paralyzed is due to the numerous chemicals that are present in cigarette smoke, such as formaldehyde. When this happens, toxins are allowed an easy access to your lungs. These toxins then settle into the lungs and create inflammation, which in turn causes coughing when the body tries to get rid of these toxins from your lungs. In the night when you go to sleep, these cilia begin to repair themselves as this is the time when you are no longer smoking and no chemicals are being inhaled. By the morning, the cilia start working to remove the toxins that have built-up in the lungs, thus causing an increase in your coughing when you get up in the morning.

It is important to keep in mind that the paralysis of the cilia from smoking is one of the primary causes of lung cancer from smoking. The paralyzed cilia are unable to remove any toxins, thus leaving them in place along with the chemicals from the smoke as well. The longer time these toxins are left inside, the more time they have to cause damage to your lung tissue. This damage may also damage your DNA, causing lung cancer.

Do All Smokers Get a Smoker's Cough?

There is no proven data about the frequency of smoker's cough or whether everyone who smokes gets it. A study was conducted on military recruits who smoked and also who were nonsmokers. It was found that 40% of them experienced a persistent and productive cough, as compared to 12% of participants who did not smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely to experience a smoker's cough, but the actual percentage remains unknown.

Are There Any Complications from Smoker's Cough?

There are many complications of smoking, but few of these actually are related to the actual coughing resulting from smoking. The only complications can be that persistent coughing can cause muscle strains in the chest, and in severe cases can even cause broken ribs. In women, stress incontinence can be caused by the abdominal pressure the coughing causes. A smoker's cough may also complicate your social life, as people may tend to avoid being near you due to the frequent coughing. This may affect your emotional health, often causing depression.

Other complications of Smoker's Cough include:

  • Hoarse voice.
  • Itching and irritation in the airways and throat.
  • Damage to the throat.
  • Smoker's cough can develop into a long-term chronic cough.

Increased risk of infections as the airways is unable to stop the entry to toxins.

What are The Effects of Long-Term Smoking?

Long-term smoking can also cause the toxic chemicals present in tobacco smoke to build up in the lungs and airways. This can cause several complications such as: lung cancer, pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema.

How Long Does a Smoker's Cough Last?

The duration and severity of smoker's cough depends on how heavily you smoke. If you do not quit smoking, then there is a possibility that smoker's cough can last indefinitely. In some cases, smoker's cough can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. If you smoke regularly, your symptoms are likely to last for as long as you continue smoking. You will also have trouble getting relief from any treatments. If you smoke one or two cigarettes in a day or once in a while, then it is likely that your smoker's cough will go away within a few days of stopping the tobacco intake.

In cases of heavy smoking, the smoker's cough can continue to last for months even after you quit smoking or if you reduce your smoking. Some people continue to have smoker's cough for years after they quit smoking.

Does Having Smoker's Cough Mean You Have Lung Cancer?

Many people assume that having a smoker's cough automatically means that they have lung cancer. This thought is further strengthened by the fact that many symptoms of lung cancer are similar to the symptoms of a smoker's cough, including wheezing and hoarseness of voice. This makes it difficult to tell the two apart. However, the truth is that cigars, cigarettes, and even the new electronic cigarette vapors contain many chemicals that are known to cause lung cancer. These substances are known as carcinogens.

When To Get Lung Cancer Screening When Suffering From Smoker's Cough

If you are a heavy smoker and notice any of the following symptoms, then you should discuss with your doctor and also get screened for lung cancer:

  • Constant chest pain.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Sudden and unintentional weight loss.

By getting screened for lung cancer, as soon as you notice any of these symptoms, lowers your risk of lung cancer. When lung cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it makes it easier to treat and your chances of beating the disease are higher. You can also stop lung cancer from spreading any other than your lungs when it is diagnosed early on.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend lung cancer screening even if you do not experience any symptoms, depending on how much you smoke.

Why does Smoker's Cough Increase After You Quit Smoking?

It has been observed that smoker's cough increases immediately after quitting smoking. While a smoker's cough generally tends to decrease within a period of 3 to 6 months of quitting smoking, this increase in coughing immediately after quitting is known as a 'smoking cessation cough'. This is a normal occurrence and it happens because the damaged cilia are now undergoing repair. As the cilia start getting repaired, they once again start doing the job of getting rid of toxins from the throat and airways. The increase in smoker's cough after quitting smoking is a perfectly normal occurrence and as the increase in coughing is only temporary. Once you quit smoking, it will definitely help your coughing, though it may take a few months to become normal.

By adding a regular exercising routine after you quit smoking, you will be able to clear out your smoker's cough more quickly, and exercising will also help you deal more effectively with the nicotine cravings that follow after you quit smoking.

Do You Need To See A Doctor for a Smoker's Cough?

In today's day and age, everybody knows that smoking is bad for your health and that there are several side effects of smoking. You should ideally consult your doctor to discuss ways in which you can quit smoking, particularly if you are affected by smoker's cough or any other health conditions stemming from smoking.

If your smoker's cough starts getting worse or starts interfering with your day-to-day activities, then it is a good idea to consult your doctor to find out the underlying reason behind your cough. Symptoms which warrants going to the doctor include:

  • Constant pain in the chest accompanied by a cough.
  • Sudden and abnormal weight loss.
  • Pains and aches in your bones.
  • A headache.
  • Coughing up mucus that is yellow or green in color.
  • Inability to control your bladder while coughing.
  • If you experience pain in your ribs while coughing or from any injury.
  • If you are coughing up blood.
  • Losing consciousness after an episode of coughing.

All the above symptoms may also indicate that you have an underlying condition such as:

Can Smoker's Cough be Treated?

There are a variety of treatments that are available for treating smoker's cough. These include both traditional as well as alternative treatments and home remedies.
Of course, one of the best ways to treat smoker's cough is to quit smoking or at least decrease the number of smokes per day. If you quit smoking altogether, you will remove the very cause of smoker's cough itself.

Home Treatments for Smoker's Cough

  • Drink plenty of water to thin out the mucus present in your lungs thin. This will help in reducing the Smoker's Cough.
  • You can soothe your sore throat that is caused by Smoker's Cough by taking lozenges, cough drops, or even by doing salt water gargles.
  • Make it a routine to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. Regular exercising will loosen up the mucus and also make it easier to cough it up and alleviate Smoker's Cough.
  • While sleeping, try to keep your head elevated above the rest of your body so that the mucus does not gather in your throat. This will decrease the intensity of Smoker's Cough at night.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or coffee, as this will further increase the severity of your cough. Alcohol and coffee also dehydrate the body, causing more irritation.

A teaspoon of honey has been found to be more effective than many over-the-counter cough syrups in reducing the symptoms of smoker's cough. You can either have a teaspoon of honey 2-3 times a day or you can also add a spoonful of honey to a cup of lukewarm water or tea. Adding honey to a cup of green tea will provide even better results in treating Smoker's Cough, as several studies have shown that green tea significant lowers the risk of lung cancer.

You can also boil some water with eucalyptus or mint leaves and inhale the vapors to get rid of Smoker's Cough. You can also place a towel over your head to help inhale the vapors. However, keep a safe distance so as to avoid getting burnt.

While no studies have actually proven this, but many researchers believe that having a diet high in cruciferous vegetables and fruits, help the body detoxify some of the chemicals that get breathed in with the tobacco smoke and hence help with Smoker's Cough. Broccoli and cauliflower are just some examples of cruciferous vegetables you can have when suffering from Smoker's Cough.

You can also try to use a humidifier or a diffuser with some essential oils of eucalyptus or mint. The vapor is known to soothe the throat and relieve the inflammation from Smoker's Cough.

Herbal supplements such as oregano, ginger, and rosemary are also known to help treat the symptoms of a cough, sore throat, and other related symptoms of Smoker's Cough.

Medications for Treating Smoker's Cough

Apart from these tips, you can also opt for consulting your doctor to get some medications for relieving your Smoker's Cough. Most common drugs for smoker's cough include corticosteroids and bronchodilators. While bronchodilators help the airway muscles relax, corticosteroids work by relieving inflammation of the airways. Bronchodilators need to be taken with an inhaler and the effect lasts for a couple of hours and is to be used only when required. Corticosteroids are also used alongside bronchodilators to treat Smoker's Cough.

Conclusion

The best treatment for a smoker's cough is to quit smoking. Quitting smoking will also prevent the risk of lung cancer. While it is not easy to quit smoking, it is recommended that you give it a shot and discuss with your doctor about getting the proper help required to give up smoking. Otherwise, managing your smoker's cough is the only solution left. You can use the methods described here to help you manage the symptoms of smoker's cough better.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: September 20, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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