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Smoking has a number of well-known health effects 2. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that it causes lung cancer and increases stroke and heart disease risk 2. It restricts circulation and contributes to conditions like abdominal aortic aneurysm and peripheral vascular disease. Some effects are more subtle. For example, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, or UPMC, reports that cigarettes affect phlegm production.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Mucus is a body secretion that helps protect the lungs by trapping foreign bodies that get in the nose while a person is breathing, according to Word IQ. Certain actions and illnesses cause increased mucus production. A large amount of thick mucus is known as phlegm. It can result from colds and respiratory infections, and the UPMC states that smoking can cause it.
- Mucus is a body secretion that helps protect the lungs by trapping foreign bodies that get in the nose while a person is breathing, according to Word IQ.
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The UPMC explains that smoking leads to phlegm because of the way it affects the lungs. Smokers develop more mucus-producing cells in their lungs and airway. They have a greater mucus volume, which becomes thick phlegm. The lungs are normally cleaned by hairs called cilia, but their movement slows while a person is smoking and remains impaired for several hours afterward. Cilia cannot clean out the phlegm effectively, so it remains in the lungs and airway.
- The UPMC explains that smoking leads to phlegm because of the way it affects the lungs.
- Cilia cannot clean out the phlegm effectively, so it remains in the lungs and airway.
Phlegm that stays in the lungs and airway clogs them and leads to chronic coughing. It can also cause respiratory infections, the UPMC warns. The problem often gets worse because cigarette use reduces the number of cilia and inflames and narrows the lungs and airway. Air flow is eventually reduced. Smoking Cessation, a stop-smoking website, states that smokers tend to cough in the morning because their cilia are very active in the morning. Their efforts to clear out accumulated phlegm causes coughing. Non-smokers who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke suffer from these same effects, according to the UPMC.
- Phlegm that stays in the lungs and airway clogs them and leads to chronic coughing.
- Smoking Cessation, a stop-smoking website, states that smokers tend to cough in the morning because their cilia are very active in the morning.
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Smokers have a higher risk of developing certain respiratory diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis over time. Phlegm complicates these problems, according to the UPMC. Both diseases cause breathing problems, and the increased production of thick mucus further restricts airflow. Smoking Cessation explains that smoking eventually thickens lung membranes. This change is linked to an increased throat cancer risk.
- Smokers have a higher risk of developing certain respiratory diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis over time.
- Both diseases cause breathing problems, and the increased production of thick mucus further restricts airflow.
People who stop smoking realize many benefits, including reduced phlegm. The UPMC explains that those who stop smoking can breathe more easily within three cigarette-free days. Phlegm is noticeably reduced within one month, and cilia regrow within one to nine months. Cilia regain the ability to handle mucus and clean the lungs efficiently, and coughing and infection risk drops.
- People who stop smoking realize many benefits, including reduced phlegm.
- Cilia regain the ability to handle mucus and clean the lungs efficiently, and coughing and infection risk drops.
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- Smoking Cessation: Clearing the Air on the Hard Facts of What Smoking Does to Your Body
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking
- Lillehoj EP, Kato K, Lu W, Kim KC. Cellular and molecular biology of airway mucins. Int Rev Cell Mol Biol. 2013;303:139-202. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-407697-6.00004-0
- Bills G, Rose C. Principles of Pharmacology for Respiratory Care. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2019.
- Fahy JV, Dickey BF. Airway mucus function and dysfunction. N Engl J Med. 2010;363(23):2233-47. doi:10.1056/NEJMra0910061
- Seaton A, Leitch G, Seaton D. Crofton and Douglas's Respiratory Diseases. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2008.
- Scaglione F, Petrini O. Mucoactive agents in the therapy of upper respiratory airways infections: fair to describe them just as mucoactive?. Clin Med Insights Ear Nose Throat. 2019;12:1179550618821930. doi:10.1177/1179550618821930
- American Thoracic Society. (2015). What Are the Signs and Symptoms of COPD?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Runny Nose (with green or yellow mucus).
- Martínez-girón R, Mosquera-martínez J, Martínez-torre S. Black-Pigmented Sputum. J Cytol. 2013;30(4):274-5.
- Nadel, J.A. (2016). Airway Epithelium and Mucous Secretion. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. 10, 157-167.
- National Health Service. (2015). Coughing up blood (blood in phlegm).
- Rogers, D.F. (2014). Airway Mucus and the Mucociliary System. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 47, 739-753
- Rubin, B.K. (2002). Physiology of Airway Mucus Clearance. Respir Care. 47(7), 761-8
- Barnes, P.J., Drazen, J.M., Rennard, S.I. & Thomson, N.C. (2002). Asthma and COPD: Basic Mechanisms and Clinical Management. Academic Press : Elsevier
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."