Smoking causes damage to the airways of the lungs. This brochure provides an overview of how the lungs work and the effects of smoking can lead over time to chronic bronchitis and emphysema, collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
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Smoking and COPD
Smoking damages two main parts of your lungs: your airways, also called bronchial tubes, and small air sacs called alveoli.
With each breath, air travels down your windpipe, called the trachea, and enters your lungs through your bronchial tubes. Air then moves into thousands of tiny alveoli, where oxygen from the air moves into your bloodstream and the waste product carbon dioxide moves out of your bloodstream.
Tiny hair-like projections, called cilia, line your bronchial tubes and sweep harmful substances out of your lungs.
Cigarette smoke irritates the lining of your bronchial tubes, causing them to swell and make mucus.
Cigarette smoke also slows the movement of your cilia, causing mucus to stay in your lungs.
While you are sleeping, some of the cilia recover and start pushing more pollutants and mucus out of your lungs.
When you wake up, your body attempts to expel this material by coughing repeatedly, a condition known as smoker's cough.
Over time, chronic bronchitis develops as your cilia stop working, your airways become affected, and breathing becomes difficult. Your lungs are now more vulnerable to further disease.
Cigarette smoke also damages your alveoli, making it harder for oxygen and carbon dioxide to exchange with your blood.
Over time, you may develop emphysema, a condition in which you may become short of breath and may need to wear an oxygen tube under your nose.
Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are collectively called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is a gradual loss of the ability to breathe, for which there is no cure.
Why to Quit Smoking
Smoking damages the airways and air sacs that make up your lungs and leads to smoker's cough, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Smoking also damages your body's blood vessels and cells. Cigarette smoking can cause cancer, stroke, and heart attack, and may make other health problems worse.
Others around you who are exposed to cigarette smoke can develop colds, infections, and more serious health problems.
Quitting smoking is the most important step to take to prevent COPD and other major health problems.
How to Quit Smoking
Managing Nicotine Withdrawal and Cravings
While you are quitting smoking and for a few days after you quit, you may experience nicotine withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings for cigarettes.
Let your family and friends know about the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal so that they can understand changes in your mood.
Common Symptoms of Nicotine Withdrawal
Ways to Manage Cravings
To help you control your cigarette cravings and get through these feelings, there are several things you can do:
Therapies to Help You Quit
You and your health care provider should discuss if smoking cessation therapies are right for you as you quit.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy Because the nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, receiving nicotine without smoking a cigarette provides some relief of withdrawal symptoms.
Nicotine patches and nicotine gum are two examples of nicotine replacement therapy.
Non-Nicotine Therapy These types of therapies reduce the urge to smoke and lessen nicotine withdrawal symptoms without providing nicotine to your body.
The information in this handout has been created and peer reviewed by graduate-level medical illustrators, followed by reviews from medical subject experts, either physicians or PhDs on the Nucleus Medical Review Board, to ensure medical accuracy and audience level appropriateness.
The handout is intended to supplement the information you receive from your healthcare provider and should never be considered personal medical advice. Always contact your healthcare provider with health questions and concerns.