A sore throat after quitting smoking is one of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. During this time, a person may also have other symptoms similar to a cold or flu, such as sneezing or coughing.

When a person has a sore throat, experts recommend gargling with salt water and drinking warm beverages and fluids to ease symptoms.

Nicotine withdrawal may also commonly cause other effects, such as depression, insomnia, and irritability.

This article discusses a sore throat after quitting smoking, as well as smoker’s flu and other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. It also examines sore throat treatment, the benefits of quitting smoking, and ways to quit smoking.

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Nicotine, the main ingredient in cigarette smoke, affects the brain and body in various ways. When a person stops smoking, they need time to adjust to the effects of not having nicotine.

This period of adjustment, called nicotine withdrawal, can manifest in psychological and physical symptoms, including a sore throat, according to 2015 research.

If an individual has been a heavy smoker, they are especially likely to experience this symptom. It can begin 72 hours after quitting.

A common name for the effects a person may experience when quitting smoking is smoker’s flu.

Why is smoking bad for you?

Along with a sore throat, common side effects include:

  • nicotine cravings
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sweating
  • nausea, vomiting, and cramping
  • insomnia
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • tingling in hands and feet
  • headache
  • weight gain

Read more about nicotine.

In addition to a sore throat, a person may experience other symptoms similar to those of a cold or flu after quitting smoking. Some people call this smoker’s flu.

Symptoms usually peak on day 3 and taper off after 2 weeks to a month, suggests the same 2015 research mentioned earlier.

Because smoker’s flu can pose a threat to successful quitting, it helps for someone to know that such symptoms may occur and to realize they are only temporary.


Other than a sore throat, smoker’s flu symptoms may include:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • headache

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following home measures for treating a sore throat from any cause:

  • using a cool mist vaporizer or humidifier
  • drinking warm beverages
  • gargling with salt water
  • sucking on ice chips or popsicles

To treat nicotine withdrawal symptoms in general, including sore throat, experts advise drinking plenty of water throughout the day in the weeks that follow quitting smoking. A person should aim to consume 6–8 glasses of water per day.

Read more about sore throat treatment.

The benefits start immediately after quitting, increasing in importance with time.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), here is what someone can expect at different times:

Time since quitting Effects on the body
20 minutesBlood pressure and heart rate decrease.
A few daysBlood carbon monoxide levels reduce to standard levels.
2–3 weeks Lung function and circulation increase.
1–12 monthsShortness of breath and coughing decline. The function of cilia also becomes typical, which decreases the risk of infections. (Cilia are tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs.)
1–2 yearsThe risk of heart attacks lowers dramatically.
5–10 yearsThe likelihood of stroke drops, and the risk of cancers of the voice box, throat, and mouth declines by 50%.
10 yearsLung cancer risk falls as much as 50% of the risk of a long-term smoker. Cancers of the kidney, bladder, and esophagus decrease.
15 yearsThe risk of heart artery disease reduces and becomes close to the risk of a nonsmoker.

A person may choose to quit with or without medications.

With medications

One type of medication involves nicotine replacement therapy, the ACS notes. This refers to products that provide nicotine without the other harmful chemicals in tobacco.

They come in different forms, including:

  • gum
  • lozenges
  • patches
  • sprays
  • inhalers

These products may help relieve cravings and some physical withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking.

According to the ACS, research suggests that they can nearly double the likelihood of successfully quitting. This option may be appropriate for heavy smokers.

Other medication options include varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban). Varenicline interferes with nicotine receptors in the brain, which reduces the enjoyment of nicotine. Bupropion reduces symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and cravings.

Without medications

Quitting without medications may mean trying the cold turkey method. This is when a person quits smoking completely all at once. Another method involves gradual withdrawal, which means slowly decreasing the number of cigarettes a person smokes daily.

Ways that may not work

While other products on the market claim to help an individual quit smoking, doctors do not recommend them.

These include filters that decrease the tar and nicotine in cigarettes but do not successfully lead a person to quit. Additionally, research does not show that smoking deterrents, such as stop-smoking vitamins or products that change tobacco taste, are effective.

Read our tips on ways to quit smoking.

A sore throat after quitting smoking is one of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. Other symptoms may include emotional effects, such as depression, and physical effects, such as nausea and vomiting.

Treatment of a sore throat may include home measures to help a person feel better, such as gargling with salt water.

The benefits of quitting smoking involve short-term effects, such as reducing blood pressure. There are also long-term effects, such as decreased risk of heart attacks, lung disease, and some cancers.

People may quit with or without the use of medications.