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Quit Smoking Today.. Give your Lungs a chance!

Mr. Chowdhury, a long-time smoker, visited the doctor due to a persistent, chronic cough that just wouldn’t go away. The doctor, with a concerned look, asked him, “Do you smoke?” Mr. Chowdhury hesitated before answering, “I’ve cut down a lot; now I only smoke one or two cigars a day.” The doctor smiled gently and said, “Even if you smoke just one cigar in a year, you’re still considered a smoker. To restore your normal lung function and reduce your cardiac risks, you need to quit smoking completely.”

Curious and hopeful, Mr. Chowdhury asked, “Doc, is it really possible to get my lung function back to normal? Can lungs heal after quitting smoking?

smoking increases cardiac risk

This question resonates with many of us. Many wonder if “lung recovery after quitting smoking” is a realistic expectation or just a hopeful myth. Let’s explore the relationship between quitting smoking and lung healing in this blog.

According to the WHO report 2023:

complications of smoking
  • Smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • In high-income countries, over 70% and in low- and middle-income countries, 30-40% of COPD cases are due to tobacco smoking.
  • People with COPD are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, bowel cancer, heart disease, reproductive issues, pregnancy risks and complications, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Passive smoking significantly harms children’s lung development, greatly increasing their risk of developing COPD later in life.

Smoking causes serious damage to the lungs in the following ways:

  • Chronic smoke inhalation injures lung tissue.
  • The tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, get damaged and enlarged.
  • This damage causes inflammation, attracting immune cells like macrophages and neutrophils.
  • These immune cells release enzymes that destroy the walls of the alveoli.
  • As a result, the lung’s air spaces collapse, causing obstruction.
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) usually worsens over time and leads to periodic worsening unless treated early.
  • Continued exposure to smoking and pollutants can cause progressive difficulty in breathing and increased carbon dioxide levels in the blood, leading to severe disability.

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The moment you decide to quit smoking, your body starts to respond positively.

heart rate and blood pressure drop to normal levels within 20 mins of your last cigarette
  • Improve Lung Function: Within just few minutes of your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure drop to normal levels, making the first step towards better health.
  • Oxygen levels: Within few hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops back to normal, allowing more oxygen to reach your organs and tissues.

Within a few weeks of when you quit smoking, you may notice an improvement in your lung function.

  • Relaxed bronchial tubes: Your bronchial tubes begin to relax, and your lung capacity increases, making breathing easier.
  • Better circulation: Your circulation improves, and you may notice that physical activities become less strenuous.
  • Reduced coughing and shortness of Breath: The cilia in your lungs, tiny hair-like structures that help keep your lungs clean, start to function better, leading to a decrease in coughing and shortness of breath.

The real magic happens over the long term:

Lung function improves significantly after quitting smoking
  • Continued Healing: One year after quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease declines to half that of a smoker. But what about your lungs? Studies have shown that lung function can improve significantly within two to five years after quitting smoking.
  • Decreased Cancer Risk: The risk of developing lung cancer decreases significantly, and your lungs continue to restore and regenerate.
  • Permanent Damage Considerations: While some lung damage from smoking can be permanent, especially after years of heavy smoking, the body has an impressive capacity for healing. Lung tissue can repair and regenerate to some degree. The cilia, which help keep your lungs clean, gradually recover, enhancing their function. This healing process can continue for several years after quitting, leading to ongoing improvements in lung function and overall health.
Regular exercise

Quitting smoking is the most critical step toward lung health, but it’s also important to adopt a healthy lifestyle to support this healing process. Regular exercise, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and staying hydrated can enhance lung function. Avoiding pollutants and practicing good respiratory hygiene are also crucial for maintaining healthy lungs.

Balanced diet

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Mr. Chowdhury’s concern is valid and shared by many smokers contemplating quitting. The good news is that it’s never too late to quit smoking and begin the healing journey. Your lungs, along with the rest of your body, will thank you for it. While some damage may be irreversible, significant recovery is possible, leading to better lung function, reduced risks of lung diseases, and overall improved health. So, take that first step today towards a smoke-free life and breathe easier, knowing your lungs are on the path to recovery.

  1. Cell recovery in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid in smokers is dependent on cumulative smoking history. PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e34232.
  2. B.W.M. Willemse, D.S. Postma, W. Timens, N.H.T. ten Hacken European Respiratory Journal 2004 23: 464-476 
  3. How quitting smoking reverses lung cell damage: https://en.prothomalo.com/lifestyle/How-quitting-smoking-reverses-lung-cell-damage
  4. Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time: American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/tobacco/benefits-of-quitting-smoking-over-time.html#:~:text=1%20to%2012%20months%20after,reduce%20the%20risk%20of%20infection.
  5. Outcome of Smoking Cessation on Airway Remodeling and Pulmonary Inflammation in COPD Patients. Tanaffos. 2011;10(3):7-11.

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