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Lung Health After Quitting Smoking

Smokers lungIf you’re a smoker, you might feel like quitting is pointless because the damage to your lungs has already been done. However, there are always positives to quitting smoking. Wondering, “What happens to my lungs when I quit smoking?” You might be shocked at how quickly you’ll begin to see the positive effects of lung improvement after quitting smoking

Do Lungs Heal If You Quit Smoking?

Your lungs can heal to a certain extent after you quit smoking. Some damage is irreversible and your lungs cannot fully recover from the kind of damage that causes COPD. However, you might be surprised by how much your lungs can recover and the improvements you will experience after quitting smoking. Plus, the sooner you quit, the greater the benefits will be. 

When you quit smoking, the carbon monoxide that had built up in your bloodstream will begin to dissipate right away. This will decrease any shortness of breath you have been experiencing and improve your oxygen levels.[1] Your airways and the surfaces of your lungs will also begin to recover immediately from the inflammation caused by the over 4,800 toxic chemicals you inhaled with each puff of a cigarette.1 

Quitting smoking will also reactivate the cilia inside your lungs, which become paralyzed by smoking.1[2] These cilia are responsible for moving mucus, dust, bacteria and more out of the lungs, but smoking renders them less effective.1,2 After you quit smoking, your lungs will also stop producing excess mucus, which will be more easily swept out of your lungs now that your cilia can work properly. New cilia will also begin to grow, and inflammation throughout the respiratory system will decrease.2 

Perhaps most notably, researchers have recently found that cells that are inexplicably not mutated by smoking may actually be able to grow and replace the damaged cells, thereby repairing your lungs.[3][4] In fact, these researchers were surprised to find that, in people who quit smoking even after 40 years, 40% of their cells looked like cells from people who had never smoked before.4 However, this regeneration of healthy cells only appears to be possible if you quit smoking. So, do lungs heal if you quit smoking? It turns out that they can.

What Happens to My Lungs When I Quit Smoking?

The fact is that you reduce your risk of developing lung cancer right away when you quit smoking. That alone is reason enough to quit, but the benefit to your lungs and the way you feel overall is significant, too. Even more motivation might come from the fact that you will start experiencing those benefits in as little as 20 minutes.

When you want to know, “What happens to my lungs when I quit smoking?”, you can explore the detailed timeline below. This timeline explains exactly what happens to your lungs and the rest of your body when you quit. Believe it or not, the effects are significant right from the start and they only continue to improve from there. Here’s what to expect when you quit smoking.[5][6][7]

  • 20 minutes after you quit smoking:

Your heart rate and blood pressure begin to drop, getting closer to normal levels. This improves your circulation in your lungs, but also throughout the rest of your body. 

  • 8 hours after you quit smoking:

The carbon monoxide levels in your bloodstream return to normal and the oxygen levels in your bloodstream increase. This helps improve your shortness of breath and helps all of your tissues get the oxygen they need.

  • 24 hours after you quit smoking:

Your likelihood of having a heart attack decreases, both because of lower blood pressure and the reduced risk of developing a blood clot. Smoking changes the surface of your blood platelets and blood vessel walls, so platelets are more likely to clump together and form blood clots. Quitting reduces the chance of a smoking-related blood clot, which also reduces your chances of pulmonary embolism or stroke.[8]

  • 48 hours after you quit smoking:

Your nerve endings will start to regrow, allowing you to smell and taste better than before. You may also find that physical activity feels less taxing with the increase in your oxygen levels.

  • 72 hours after you quit smoking:

The inflammation in your bronchial tubes will start to go down, allowing your bronchial tubes to relax and improving airflow. You may also start to experience nicotine withdrawal.

  • 1 to 3 months after you quit smoking:

Your circulation will continue to improve, benefiting all of your major organs and tissues. After one month, your lung function begins to improve. You may initially notice that you cough more as your body tries to expel excess mucus that built up while you were smoking, but then coughing and shortness of breath will continue to improve.

  • Up to 9 months after you quit smoking:

Sinus congestion and fatigue will decrease, and coughing and shortness of breath will continue to improve. After 9 months, the cilia in your lungs will regrow, allowing your lungs to better get rid of mucus, reducing your risk of respiratory infection.

  • 1 year after you quit smoking:

Your risk of developing heart disease is cut to half that of a current smoker, and it continues to decrease the longer you are a nonsmoker.

  • 5 years after you quit smoking:

Your chance of having a stroke is now the same as a never smoker. Your blood vessels and arteries have relaxed without nicotine exposure, so blood can travel through the body more easily and is less prone to clumping.

  •  10 years after you quit smoking:

Your risk of lung cancer is cut in half, as is your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, mouth cancer, larynx cancer or throat cancer. The likelihood of developing other cancers decreases as well.

  • 15 years after you quit smoking:

Your likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer or coronary heart disease is now the same as a never smoker.

  • 20 years after you quit smoking:

Your risk of lung disease and all other cancers is now the same as that of a never smoker. 

There is profound lung improvement after quitting smoking, and the benefits of quitting impact the health of your body overall for years to come. Not only do lungs heal if you quit smoking, but almost immediately after quitting, your body will start to reap the benefits. The longer you are a nonsmoker, the greater the benefits for your health. Quitting may be tough at first, but it is absolutely worth the work to protect your health. 

Breathing Better After Quitting Smoking

In the first several weeks, the lung improvement after quitting smoking will be noticeable. You may experience increased coughing as your lungs are able to clear any mucus build-up. However, from there you’ll be breathing better after quitting smoking. second hand smoke lung health

The improvement in lung function even applies to people who have already developed permanent damage in their lungs, like COPD. In fact, one study found that six weeks after quitting smoking, people with COPD had a measurable improvement in lung function, and that improvement increased the longer they remained nonsmokers.[9][10]  

There are so many surprising benefits to quitting smoking, they are almost too numerous to list. Besides breathing better after quitting smoking, quitting will also allow you to enjoy other benefits in:[11]

  • Your eyes, ears, nose, mouth and face: Your night vision will improve, your hearing will sharpen, your teeth will be healthier and your breath will improve. You’ll also notice that your skin is clearer, brighter and has fewer wrinkles.
  • Your cardiovascular system: Your risk of heart disease and heart attacks will plummet, your blood will be less likely to form clots and will circulate better and your cholesterol will be significantly healthier. Improved circulation also means better healing.
  • Your cells: Your cells are less likely to mutate, lowering your likelihood of developing cancer. Your white blood cell count will increase to normal levels, which also benefits your immune system.
  • Your bones and muscles: Improved oxygen levels in your blood allow your muscles to work more effectively. Your bones are also at a lower risk of fracture after you quit.
  • Your lungs: You will stop the damage to your lungs, and give the healthy cells a chance to replace damaged ones. Your cilia will begin to regrow in your lungs, improving lung function overall. You will experience fewer respiratory illnesses and infections, and may also prevent long-term lung disease.

You can ensure lung improvement after quitting smoking by taking good care of yourself. 

Breathing better after quitting smoking relies on general good health practices. Start by getting regular exercise to maintain and improve your lung function. Avoid lung pollutants like dust, fumes, mold and secondhand smoke. Drink plenty of water, or try drinking warm green tea to thin your mucus and provide anti-inflammatory benefits.[12] Most importantly, remain a nonsmoker. 

So, do lungs heal if you quit smoking? Maybe not to the same level of health as before you started smoking, but they can recover a surprising amount. Sometimes, your tissue can heal itself. Just minutes after you finished your last cigarette, your body was flushing it out of your system and working on recovering. Your lung health, as well as your overall health, will only continue to improve the longer to go without smoking. Quitting smoking might not be the easiest thing you ever do, but it just might be the healthiest.


Sources cited:

[1] Johnson, Tirrell Tremayne. “How the Lungs Heal After Quitting Smoking.” Orlando Health, Orlando Health, 16 Dec. 2017, www.orlandohealth.com/content-hub/how-the-lungs-heal-after-quitting-smoking. 

[2] Nierenberg, Cari. “Do Smokers’ Lungs Heal After They Quit?” LiveScience, Future US, Inc., 30 June 2017, www.livescience.com/59667-quit-smoking-lungs-heal.html. 

[3] Yoshida, Kenichi, et al. “Tobacco Smoking and Somatic Mutations in Human Bronchial Epithelium.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 29 Jan. 2020, www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-1961-1. 

[4] Gallagher, James. “Lungs ‘Magically’ Heal Damage from Smoking.” BBC News, BBC, 29 Jan. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/health-51279355. 

[5] “What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 9 Nov. 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/happens-body-quit-smoking/. 

[6] “What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking Cigarettes?” UPMC Western Maryland, UPMC Western Maryland, Updated 25 Mar. 2020, www.wmhs.com/your-body-quit-smoking. 

[7] “Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time.” American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society, 10 Nov. 2020, www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/benefits-of-quitting-smoking-over-time.html. 

[8] “What Does Smoking Have To Do with Blood Clots?” American Blood Clot Association, American Blood Clot Association, 10 Dec. 2019, www.bloodclot.org/what_does_smoking_have_to_do_with_blood_clots. 

[9] “Here’s What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Smoking.” GoHealth Urgent Care, GoHealth Urgent Care, 31 July 2019, www.gohealthuc.com/library/here%E2%80%99s-what-happens-your-body-when-you-quit-smoking. 

[10] Willemse, B.W.M., et al. “The Impact of Smoking Cessation on Respiratory Symptoms, Lung Function, Airway Hyperresponsiveness and Inflammation.” European Respiratory Society, European Respiratory Society, 1 Mar. 2004, erj.ersjournals.com/content/23/3/464. 

[11] “Benefits of Quitting.” Smokefree.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 19 May 2021, smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/why-you-should-quit/benefits-of-quitting. 

[12] Sweeney, Mary. “How to Clean Your Lungs After Quitting Smoking.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 26 May 2020, www.healthline.com/health/quit-smoking/how-to-clean-lungs-after-quitting-smoking#natural-ways-to-clean-lungs.


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