Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious lung disease that can cause a person to experience breathing difficulties. Cigarette smoking can cause COPD and can seriously damage the lungs.
Keep reading to learn more about COPD, the link between smoking and COPD, and why giving up smoking is important for anyone living this condition who smokes.
COPD stands for
If an individual has COPD, their symptoms may include:
COPD is a serious and progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. There is currently no cure, but treatments exist to help with symptoms and slow disease progression.
Learn more about COPD and its treatment options here.
Causes of COPD
Tobacco smoke is a
Cigarettes create more than 7,000 chemicals when they burn. This can lead a person who smokes to experience:
- weakening of the lungs’ immunity, such as their response to infection
- narrowing of air passages
- inflammation and swelling
- destruction of the lungs’ air sacs or alveoli
However, even individuals who do not smoke are at risk from COPD if exposed to air pollution, secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, and chemicals in the workplace or home.
Additionally, if someone has a genetic condition called alpha-1 deficiency or a history of respiratory infections, they are at an increased risk of developing COPD.
Cigarette smoking is the
Another chemical found in cigarette smoke is acrolein. Acrolein can cause irreversible lung damage even in very small amounts.
Cigarettes may also contain bronchodilators. These chemicals allow the lungs’ airways to open up, meaning the lungs can increase the number of harmful chemicals they absorb.
Aside from releasing dangerous chemicals, smoking cigarettes can cause harm to the lungs in other ways. Smoking destroys the tiny hairs, or cilia, in the airways, which help keep the lungs clean. When these cilia disappear, an individual can develop a chronic cough, also called a “smoker’s cough.” If the individual continues to smoke, they can develop COPD, difficulty breathing, and could eventually die because of lack of air.
Smoking is an unhealthy habit for everyone, but it is particularly important that people who smoke and receive a COPD diagnosis quit and prevent further damage to the lungs.
If someone continues to smoke even after developing COPD, it worsens the disease and can trigger exacerbations or flare-ups. Exacerbations are a sudden worsening of symptoms that usually present as severe respiratory distress. These episodes can be life threatening and can further increase disease severity.
Yes, quitting smoking is critical. Although stopping smoking cannot undo previous damage done to the lungs, it can prevent further damage and increase a person’s quality of life.
When someone stops smoking, their body can better fight the disease or lung infection. As a result, lung function should improve, and symptoms should decrease. This may also mean that a person experiences fewer exacerbations.
Approximately 1–9 months after stopping smoking, people with COPD should find that their cough, sinus congestion, shortness of breath, and fatigue have improved. They should also feel better about their health and have more energy to do what they enjoy.
Learn more about what happens after a person quits smoking here.
For most people, the best way to
It is also important that people shield themselves from secondhand smoke, another potential factor that can cause COPD. Some
Individuals who live or work in areas where the air may contain toxic pollutants should
If possible, people should use air purifiers or cleaners to improve their air quality.
Quitting smoking is an important step in managing COPD, but people can find it challenging. However, there are medications and support available.
The first step is to speak with a doctor who can recommend proven methods to help a person quit smoking and manage their nicotine use. The doctor will likely prescribe dual therapy to include medication combined with nicotine replacement or behavioral health changes.
Doctors may also prescribe other medications called bupropion and varenicline (Chantix). These drugs work to reduce cravings and help a person combat withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop smoking.
People can call the government’s Quit Now hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free information and support.
COPD is a serious lung disease that doctors associate with smoking. If someone with COPD continues to smoke, it can worsen the disease and increase their risk of exacerbations, which are periods of sudden worsening of symptoms.
The best way to prevent COPD or avoid worsening symptoms is to quit smoking. Medications and other support are available to help people quit smoking and manage their nicotine use. Individuals ready to stop smoking should speak with their doctor for help and advice.