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How to Heal Lungs from Smoking Damage

cigarette cartoon punching cartoon lungs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who smoke are at a high risk of developing many chronic diseases, including chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, and other cancers. Smoking-related diseases can have a huge impact on your quality of life and life expectancy. Quitting cigarette smoking can be challenging. If you have taken this important step, you can pat yourself on the back. But like many people who have recently quit smoking or are planning on quitting, you may be wondering—Can you regain healthy lungs after you stop smoking? Or does smoking cause irreversible damage to lung tissue?

The good news is that you can clean your lungs after quitting smoking. The not-so-good news is that there is no quick fix. But if you are proactive and take control of your health, you can limit the health consequences of smoking. 

Please continue reading to learn more about what you can do to heal your lungs from tobacco smoke damage after you quit smoking.

How fast do the lungs heal after quitting smoking?

You may be surprised to learn that lung cells and your overall health begin to recover within minutes of quitting smoking. Here’s a timeline of the health effects of quitting on your lungs and your body.

  • 20 minutes after your last cigarette: Your heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and your circulation starts improving.
  • 12 hours to a few days after quitting: Carbon monoxide levels in the blood come down.
  • 2-12 weeks after quitting: Your lung function and circulation improve, signs and symptoms of chronic obstructive lung disease like coughing and shortness of breath get better, exercise tolerance improves.
  • 1-12 months after quitting: Lung damage begins to reverse. Cilia (tiny hairs in the lungs that move mucus) begin to regain function. Your risk of lung infection is reduced.
  • 1-2 years after quitting: Your risk of heart attack is dramatically reduced.
  • 5-10 years after quitting: Your risk of mouth, throat, and laryngeal (voice box) cancers is cut in half. You also have reduced odds of suffering a stroke.
  • 10 years after quitting tobacco products: Your risk of lung cancer is half that of a person who is still smoking. You also have a reduced risk of bladder, kidney, and esophageal cancers.
  • 15 years after you quit: Your risk of coronary artery disease is the same as a non-smoker.
  • 20 years after you quit tobacco use: Your risk of death from smoking-related causes like lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the same as a person who has never smoked in their life.

Are there natural ways to help the lungs heal?

As noted above, quitting smoking goes a long way towards chronic disease prevention. There is no quick fix, however. After a person quits smoking, it can take years to undo the damage caused by the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke. Beware of products on the internet that claim to detox your lungs. There is no scientific evidence that any of these vitamins, essential oils, teas, etc., actually work.

Nonetheless, there are some things you can do to clean your lungs. Here are some tips on health promotion after you quit smoking. These measures will help your lungs heal and prevent further damage to lung tissue.

Do Breathing Exercises

Smokers’ lungs work inefficiently, causing stale air to build up in the air sacs. Diaphragmatic breathing exercises like pursed-lip breathing and belly breathing can help to strengthen the muscles and make the lungs more efficient. 

Be Active

Physical exercise is one of the best ways to maximize lung function. Any type of physical activity that increases the heart rate, such as walking in fresh, clean air, helps exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. This keeps the air sacs open and more oxygen is delivered to the body.

Avoid Pollution

One of the key things you can do to promote healthy lung function is to avoid dust, chemicals, mold, secondhand smoke, and other pollutants. Exposure to these substances leads to increased mucus production in the lungs, which can block the tiny air sacs. You should avoid spending too much time outdoors if your local weather service reports poor air quality.

Drink Warm Liquids

Staying well hydrated helps keep the mucus in the lungs thin, making it easier to clear from your airways when you cough. Doctors recommend drinking warm beverages like water, tea, or broth. Consuming green tea, in particular, is recommended because green tea is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Do Warmed Steam Inhalation

Breathing in steam in a hot shower or from a bowl of hot water can help to thin out mucus and reduce airway inflammation. Steam inhalation can provide immediate relief from symptoms. However, it has not been proven to reverse lung damage or affect the overall health of the lungs.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Smokers’ lungs are likely to be inflamed. Eating foods with anti-inflammatory properties may help. While scientific research has not found strong evidence that an anti-inflammatory diet benefits lung health, eating a healthy diet can’t hurt. Anti-inflammatory foods include green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, olives, almonds, citrus fruits, cherries, and blueberries.

Avoid Secondhand Smoke and Vaping

This is a no-brainer. Other people’s cigarette smoke is just as harmful to your lungs as you smoking. Stay away from other smokers to avoid exposure to the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Also, keep in mind that e-cigarettes and vaping can have short- and long-term health consequences. So, it’s best to avoid them if you want to do everything possible towards health promotion.

Get Vaccinated

You can protect your lungs from infections by getting the flu vaccine and COVID vaccine as recommended. Also, take other measures like washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with sick people.

Assess Your Environment

The American Lung Association recommends having your home tested for radon, a toxic gas that can cause lung cancer. You should also make it a habit to vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter device. Choose cleaning products that are free of irritants, fragrances, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The Bottom Line

Deciding to quit smoking is one of the best decisions you’ll ever take. Your lungs will begin to heal within an hour of smoking your last cigarette. And while there is no quick or surefire way of promoting healthy lung function, doing the things mentioned above can help promote lung health and prolong life expectancy.
 

References:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm
  2. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/benefits-of-quitting-smoking-over-time.html
  3. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises