Woke up coughing again? Are you sick of the constant hacking in the mornings? Are you or were you a smoker? Wondering what is the connection between your cough and smoking?

Ok, too many questions! Let’s get some answers. If you are a smoker or have been one at some point in time, you may have gone through the relentless coughing episodes. This is called a smoker's cough. 

Read on to find out more about it. 

What is a smoker's cough? 

A smoker’s cough is a persistent cough that develops in long-term smokers —"persistent" meaning that it is present for more than 3 weeks. 

All smokers do not develop a smoker's cough. However, it is more likely among long-term smokers.

What causes a smoker's cough?

Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that irritate your air passages and lungs. When you inhale these substances, the natural protective and cleaning mechanism of your lungs tries to clear itself by coughing.

Normal lungs have active cilia (tiny hair-like formations lining the airways) that have a sweeping action to clear harmful material out of the lungs. 

Cigarette smoke, however, decreases the sweeping action of the cilia, so the toxins from the smoke remain in the lungs for much longer. Your body has to cough more to remove the toxins from your lungs. This is a smoker’s cough. 

When you sleep, some cilia recover during the night and begin their cleaning action again in the morning by inducing the well-known ‘early morning cough’ of smokers. 

Your body is in a natural state of detoxification in the morning, trying to filter waste. Hence, you may cough on waking up, as your lungs try to clear away the toxins of the previous day.

What are the symptoms of a smoker's cough?

A smoker’s cough may be accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Colourless/white/yellow-green/blood-tinged phlegm

  • Sore throat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Wheezing or crackling sound when breathing

  • Chest pain

A smoker’s cough has a tendency to be the worst in the morning and gradually reduce. Also, as long as you are smoking, symptoms of a smoker’s cough get progressively worse over time. 

How to treat a smoker's cough?

The only effective way to stop a smoker's cough is to eliminate the root cause, tobacco smoke. The best option is to quit smoking. 

You may cough as much or more than usual, soon after you stop smoking. This period usually lasts for up to 3 months as your body clears out the toxins built up in your airways. 

What are some ways to manage a smoker’s cough?

To relieve and treat the discomfort from your cough:

  • Drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water in a day to keep the mucus in your throat and lungs thin.

  • Use cough drops and lozenges or gargle with salt water to soothe your throat.

  • Elevate your head above the rest of your body while sleeping to prevent mucus from gathering in your throat.

  • Exercise on a daily basis as it loosens up your mucus and makes it easier to cough and eliminate phlegm.

  • Consume honey in hot water or tea as it helps reduce throat irritation.

  • Inhale steam or use a humidifier in your room as steam moisturises your dry and irritated nasal passages, reduces the severity of your cough, and eases throat pain. 

Do not ignore your cough if it lasts more than a month or if you have worrying symptoms such as blood in your cough. Consult a doctor immediately. 

Smoking is extremely injurious to health. Take advice from your doctor on how you can quit. 

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.