How Long Does Coughing After Quitting Smoking Tobacco Last?

Published Mon, January 17, 22

Smoking tobacco cigarettes does enormous damage to your lungs, throat, and mouth. Tobacco smokers often start coughing within their first week of lighting up, and this “smoker’s cough” will persist as long as you keep smoking tobacco cigarettes.

All this is common knowledge. What many smokers aren’t ready for, though, is the fact that they’ll keep coughing for a while after quitting. Smoking your last cigarette may be symbolically meaningful, but the process of quitting won’t be over for a while after you ash your final butt. Learn how long you should expect to cough after smoking cigarettes, and find out whether other common symptoms of quitting smoking are normal and how long they last.

Overview

  • Coughing after you quit usually only lasts a few weeks at most
  • You might experience other negative symptoms along the way, though
  • Your lungs will start healing themselves immediately after you quit
  • They may never quite go back to the way they were, however

Why does smoking tobacco make you cough?

Tobacco smoke makes you cough because it is full of pro-oxidant particles that irritate the lining of your lungs and throat. In addition to the particulates produced by dried tobacco leaf and the paper used to roll the cigarette, tobacco cigarette smoke also contains as many as 7,000 distinct chemical compounds, opening up a Pandora’s box of potential factors that could irritate your respiratory tract.

Your throat and lung are lined with cilia, tiny hairs that push toxins out of your respiratory tract. Smoking tobacco suppresses the activity of these cilia, triggering your body to cough in an attempt to remove these toxins in another way. Over time, the cilia in your lungs can sustain chronic damage, leading to periodic signals to cough throughout the day and night—even when you aren’t smoking.

How do you get rid of a smoker’s cough?

The only way to effectively get rid of your smoker’s cough is to quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. Your cough may get worse for a while after you quit, but now that you’ve removed the root cause of your respiratory distress, your body will be free to start the gradual process of healing itself.

Health problems after quitting smoking: what to expect

A persistent cough isn’t the only negative symptom you should expect after you quit smoking tobacco cigarettes. Some of these health problems only commonly occur in cases of heavy smoking, and while certain symptoms might be worth a doctor’s visit, others are entirely benign. Let’s take a look at the top 10 health problems people experience after they quit smoking tobacco:

1. Is coughing common after quitting smoking?

Yes, it is normal to cough for a while after you quit smoking. Even though you’ve stopped inhaling new toxins, your respiratory tract is still coated in toxic substances your body wants to remove. The best way your body knows to get the job done is coughing.

2. Why does my chest hurt after quitting smoking?

Chest pain after you quit smoking is often cited as a symptom of nicotine withdrawals, but chest tightness or pain can be indicative of a variety of health complications that occur due to long-term tobacco use. If chest pain persists for a while after you quit smoking, consult with a doctor.

3. Why is my breathing worse after quitting smoking?

The process of quitting smoking is hard on your body. It’s even harder because your body has been gradually weakened by your tobacco use over time. Symptoms like decreased lung capacity that were there while you were smoking may be more apparent now, and it will take your lungs a while to clear all the toxins deposited by cigarette smoke. Expect your breathing to improve significantly within a month after you quit smoking tobacco.

4. Is it normal to have a dry cough after quitting smoking?

Yes, the cough that occurs when you stop smoking is often described as dry. Like when you’re sick with a cold, your respiratory tract is currently inflamed and filled with toxins. Your body is battling dehydration as it rids itself of nicotine and the other substances present in cigarette smoke, so make sure to drink plenty of water to help your cough fizzle down.

5. How long after quitting smoking do you cough up tar?

Some former smokers call the phlegm you cough up after you quit “tar” when it’s black enough to visibly show its high tar concentration. Depending on how long and heavily you smoked, your lungs may contain so much tar that it will never be entirely expelled. Most smokers stop coughing up black, tarry phlegm within a few months after they quit, though.

6. How long do you cough up phlegm after quitting smoking?

Anyone who has quit smoking—even temporarily—knows that coughing up phlegm in the morning and throughout the day is a normal symptom you should simply expect. Light smokers or people who haven’t smoked for very long can expect this symptom to dissipate within a few weeks at most. Heavy smokers may experience issues with mucus congestion for the rest of their lives, though.

7. Is it normal to cough up white phlegm after quitting smoking?

Yes, the phlegm you cough up after you quit smoking is usually white or yellowish in color. If your phlegm was darker and is now becoming more white, this can be a sign that your lungs are nearly done cleaning themselves.

8. Is it normal to cough up brown phlegm after quitting smoking?

Yes, in case of more severe pulmonary tar deposits, the phlegm you cough up after you quit smoking may be brownish in color. If your phlegm remains brownish or discolored for more than a few weeks, consult with a doctor.

9. Can I get bronchitis after quitting smoking?

Yes, bronchitis is commonly caused both by smoking itself and the damage to your lungs that persists after you quit. Most cases of bronchitis clear up within 7-10 days, but consult with a doctor if your smoking cessation-related bronchitis persists and resists over-the-counter treatments.

10. How long do sinus problems last after quitting smoking?

Smoking tobacco cigarettes can damage the entirety of the delicate sinus system that stretches across the front of your head. Your body will start the process of healing itself the moment you quit smoking, but chronic sinus problems often persist for years after you took your last puff of tobacco.

How long does the “smoker’s flu” last?

People who quit smoking often describe the symptoms they experience after quitting as the “smoker’s flu.” Like the normal flu, the smoker’s flu usually lasts around a week, and then you start feeling better.

By this point, your body has detoxified from nicotine, and it has embarked on the lengthy process of removing all the other toxins cigarettes deposited. Don’t expect the acute symptoms of the smoker’s flu to last very long, but you might not feel quite yourself for a while yet.

Does tar stay in your lungs forever?

In some cases, so much tar has been deposited in your lungs and your airways are so damaged that your body will never be able to entirely cleanse your lungs of tar. These severe instances require intensive medical intervention, but the average smoker can expect their lungs to be tar-free within a few years (at most) after they quit.

Do smoker’s lungs heal after quitting?

Yes, your lungs will certainly begin the process of healing themselves after you quit smoking. Each individual’s medical situation is different, though, so there’s no way to predict how quickly and completely your lungs will heal from the damage smoking has incurred. If you boost your body’s natural ability to heal itself, your lungs will improve better.

Can a smoker’s lungs go back to normal?

In some cases, it’s possible to entirely reverse the damage caused by smoking cigarettes. The lungs are among the most delicate organs in the human body, however, and the chemicals in tobacco cigarettes are profoundly damaging. Instead of expecting your lungs to go back to normal just because you quit smoking, do everything you can to help your respiratory tract heal itself naturally.

How can I improve my lungs after quitting smoking?

You can help your lungs heal themselves from the damage caused by tobacco cigarettes by allowing yourself to cough, getting plenty of exercise, drinking hot drinks, and spending time in steamy environments. Let’s take a look at each method:

  • Coughing: Your body is making you cough to remove toxins from your lungs; don’t get in the way
  • Exercising: Exercise removes toxins through your sweat and stimulates your lungs to regain their original capacity
  • Hot drinks: Drinks like tea and coffee warm up your respiratory tract, helping your body remove toxins via phlegm
  • Steam rooms: Spending time in a sauna or simply in your bathroom with the shower set to hot will help clear your respiratory tract

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