I quit smoking a few weeks ago and now I'm coughing a lot. That didn't happen when I was smoking. What's going on?
Answer From J. Taylor Hays, M.D.
Although it's not common, some people seem to cough more than usual soon after stopping smoking. The cough is usually temporary and might actually be a sign that your body is starting to heal.
Tobacco smoke slows the normal movement of the tiny hairs (cilia) that move mucus out of your lungs. When you stop smoking, the cilia become active again. As the cilia recover and the mucus is cleared from your lungs, you might cough more than usual. This might last for several weeks.
In general, cough and shortness of breath begin to improve within a month and continue to improve for up to a year after you stop smoking.
In the meantime, you can speed the process by staying well hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, tea and juice. Taking a couple of teaspoons of honey at bedtime also might help. It may also help to use a humidifier or vaporizer, particularly in cold weather. But there's no reason to suppress a cough with medicines unless it affects your sleep or causes extreme discomfort.
Consult your doctor if the coughing lasts more than a month or you cough blood.
J. Taylor Hays, M.D.
March 19, 2021
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See more Expert Answers
- Rigotti NA. Benefits and consequences of smoking cessation. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.
- Manlove E. Cough. In: Conn's Current Therapy 2021. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.
- Benefits of quitting. Smokefree.gov. https://smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/why-you-should-quit/benefits-of-quitting. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.
- Health benefits of quitting smoking over time. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/benefits-of-quitting-smoking-over-time.html. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.
- Cough. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/cough. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.
- Honey. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed Feb. 15, 2021.