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What Exactly Does Smoking Do to My Lungs?

Smoking cigarettes is very bad for your overall health. Awareness of the increased risk of lung cancer involved with smoking cigarettes is high, but smoking cigarettes is bad for the health of your lungs and the rest of your body in multiple ways. The damage of cigarette smoke is due to the inhalation of smoke and the presence of tar and the other carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals in the smoke.

The microscopic air sacs of the lungs, called the alveoli, are particularly sensitive to the effects of cigarette smoke. When these alveoli are damaged, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide can not occur as efficiently. The damage from cigarette smoke to the alveoli of the lungs can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath after activity, coughing and hacking and susceptibility to lung infections such as pneumonia. These symptoms get worse over time as you continue to smoke. Eventually, this may develop into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, which can develop into respiratory failure. COPD encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis, both of which make it hard for a person to get enough oxygen.

The cilia of the upper respiratory system, which are little hair-like projections that act like a filter, are also damaged from cigarette smoke. Not only do smokers have a severely impaired sense of smell, but they also can’t filter the air as efficiently as non-smokers. Also, anything that gets into the lungs is not cleaned out as efficiently. Compared to non-smokers, smokers are much more prone to various lung infections because of this effect.

Over time, the damage to the lung tissue can cause lung cancer. There are a lot of unregulated carcinogenic chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke. Smoking can also increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as blood clots that can cause strokes and heart attacks.

Fortunately, quitting smoking can prevent your health from getting worse. Some of the lung damage is reversible, and after some time your risk of lung cancer will begin to drop. After you quit smoking, the cilia of the lungs will heal and make you less susceptible to pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. The longer you don’t smoke, the better your lung function gets. In some cases, some lung damage may be permanent, but if you stop smoking, you are preventing the damage from getting worse.