Smoking affects how much mucus a person’s body produces and how thick it is. People can take steps to manage mucus, such as drinking plenty of water, trying controlled coughing, and quitting smoking.

Mucus is a fluid that the body produces in several areas, including the lungs. Producing mucus does not necessarily indicate a disease, but when it becomes excessive, it may affect a person’s breathing ability.

Different medical conditions and environmental factors may contribute to the development of mucus. Certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking, may also affect mucus. Understanding what factors may contribute to mucus production may help someone identify ways to help manage it.

The article below examines how smoking affects mucus, ways to manage mucus, tips for giving up smoking, and when to speak with a healthcare professional.

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Smoking can affect mucus production in the lungs.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), smoking increases the amount of mucus in the airways and makes it thicker. Thicker mucus can be more challenging to get out of the lungs.

Smoking affects mucus for several reasons. According to the ALA, cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, some of which are toxic. When an individual inhales the smoke, the toxins can cause various physiological changes to the lung tissue and cells.

Some of the chemicals in the smoke damage the cells in the lungs, leading to irritation and inflammation in the airways. The inflammation causes the cells to produce more mucus.

This occurs, in part, because smoking can increase the amount of goblet cells in the tissue that covers the airways. Goblet cells produce mucus, so an increase in the number of these cells can lead to mucus hypersecretion, or excess mucus.

Smoking also paralyzes and damages the cilia, the small hair-like structures in the airways. The cilia help push foreign material and mucus out of the lungs.

When they become damaged, they cannot efficiently clear debris and mucus.

Excess mucus in the lungs can negatively affect breathing.

The ALA suggests several things someone can do to help manage mucus, including the following:

  • Drink plenty of water: Drinking enough water helps thin the mucus, which makes it easier to cough out of the lungs.
  • Try a controlled cough technique: A controlled cough helps loosen the mucus in order to cough it out. A person should speak with a doctor to learn the correct controlled coughing technique.
  • Determine if dairy makes mucus worse: For some people, mucus becomes thicker when they eat dairy. If this occurs, a person should speak with a doctor about decreasing their dairy intake.
  • Consult a doctor about using an airway clearance device: Different methods and devices are available, such as vests and handheld devices that mobilize mucus and remove it from the lungs.
  • Make sure vaccinations are up to date: A person should speak with their doctor about vaccines that prevent respiratory infections, like flu and pneumococcal pneumonia.
  • Consider medications: Different types of medications are available, both by prescription and over the counter, to help with excess mucus. People should always consult with a doctor before taking any medication.
  • Quit smoking: Quitting smoking can help decrease the amount of mucus the body produces. It also helps improve cilia function and remove mucus from the airways.

The American Heart Association (AHA) notes several different resources and medications that may help someone quit smoking.

A healthcare professional can offer advice and support to people who want to quit smoking.

For example, they may be able to recommend nicotine replacement products, such as gum, lozenges, and patches.

They may also prescribe bupropion hydrochloride or varenicline (Tyrvaya), which are nonnicotine medications that may help someone quit smoking and manage nicotine cravings.

Some people may want to try other options for quitting smoking, such as behavioral therapies or counseling.

Whether or not someone experiences excess mucus, it is helpful to consult with a doctor to learn about ways to quit smoking. A healthcare professional can provide resources and advice about quitting smoking.

Increased mucus may also indicate an underlying disease. Since excess mucus can occur with several different diseases, it is essential to take note of additional symptoms.

A person should consult with a doctor if they experience any of the following:

The symptoms above can occur with pneumonia. It can also cause low oxygen levels in pulse oximetry.

According to the ALA, a productive cough can indicate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). If a person experiences a productive cough that does not go away and any of the following symptoms, they should consider contacting a doctor:

Smoking can alter the cells and tissues in the lungs. It may cause an increase in the amount of mucus the body produces and also make it thicker.

Strategies like drinking plenty of water, using an airway clearance device, and quitting smoking may help someone manage mucus.

If applicable, people can speak with a doctor about which methods to help quit smoking may work best for them. This could include medications, nicotine replacement therapy, or counseling.

If excess mucus persists, a person should consider consulting a doctor who can determine if there is an underlying cause.