What happens to your lungs after quitting smoking

Smoking damages your lungs, find out how quitting smoking can help your lungs recover.

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing if you’re a smoker. It is a massive achievement worth celebrating.

When you stop smoking you’ll be likely to experience more energy, a longer life expectancy2 and improved mental health compared to a smoker.3

One of the key things lots of us will also think about when quitting smoking is health benefits it will bring to our lungs. However, you might still have some questions over how exactly quitting smoking affects our lungs. You might be wondering if our lungs can really recover from smoking? Or, how long will it take you to feel any benefits of quitting smoking?

What happens to my lungs when I smoke?

The first thing to think about when looking at how long it takes our lungs to recover from smoking is by looking at what exactly happens to our lungs when we smoke.

When you smoke you damage both the airways and small air sacs, called alveoli, in your lungs.4 At the same time you also reduce the ability of your lungs to protect themselves, making them more vulnerable to further damage.5

Long term this reduces your lung capacity6 and impacts your lung health, putting you at greater risk of illnesses, such as lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).7

What is COPD? COPD, is a term for a group of progressive lung conditions that make it difficult to empty air out of your lungs. Two of the most common are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which frequently occur together.

Can my lungs recover from smoking?

You have probably heard from many long-term smokers that there is no point to them giving up now as the damage to their lungs has already been done. However, this is not true.8

Unfortunately, while some damage to your lungs is permanent.9 Stopping smoking prevents further damage to your lungs from happening. Or, if you already suffer from COPD, stopping smoking will help to slow the progress of the disease.

This means, no matter how long you have been smoking, the best thing you can as a smoker to improve your health is to give up cigarette smoking.1

Will I be able to breathe easier after quitting smoking?

Smoking reduces lung capacity and impacts the health of your lungs. However, if you’re a younger smoker in your 20s and 30s you might not even notice the impact of smoking on your lung function unless you are taking part in physical activity.

It is only as you get older and your lung function naturally diminishes as well that you might start to feel the impact of smoking on your lung health.

However, no matter what age you are, when you quit smoking you are likely to be able to feel the benefits to your breathing. People that quit smoking lung capacity can improve by 10% in just 9 months.11 This might make the difference between being able to go for a jog or a kick about with your friends vs wheezing while walking up the stairs.10

What happens to my lungs when I quit smoking?

When you quit smoking the first thing that will happen is you’ll stop damaging your lungs further. The next thing that will happen is you’ll likely start to experience benefits to both your lung health and whole body from quitting smoking.

The improvements to your lungs can start in as little as 20 minutes after your final cigarette. Find a list below on the positive changes that can result from quitting smoking and when you’ll start to experience them after your final cigarette.

20 minutes

The fibres in your bronchial tubes are no longer irritated by constant smoke and will be able to move more freely. This can reduce your risk of illness as the fibres remove harmful irritants and bacteria from your lungs.11

48 hours

Your lungs start to clear out mucus and smoking debris

72 hours

The bronchial tubes in your lung start to relax and open up more. This will help to improve the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your lungs. As a result, your breathing might get easier and you can experience a reduction in your shortness of breath.12

Two weeks to two months

Your lung function can improve by up-to 30%. You might notice the impact of this in a reduction in shortness of breath when exercising. The fibres in your lungs that help to reduce mucus build-up and protect against bacterial infection might start to grow back.

Six months

As your airways recover from the constant exposure to smoke and chemicals that come from cigarette smoking, you might start to find yourself coughing phlegm less frequently.

Ten years

Your risk of lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking.13

What can you do to improve your lung health?

The health of your lungs is important. And while lots of us are familiar with staying in shape and looking after our body, many of us think less about looking after our lung health.

Luckily, they‘re are some simple steps you can take to help improve your lung health . These include:

  • Give up smoking
  • Avoiding air pollution and lung infections
  • Exercise
  • Singing
  • A balanced diet

This year NiQuitin are joining forces with The British Lung Foundation to protect people’s lungs. Together we will be raising awareness of the damaging ways air pollution affects our lungs and encouraging people to take action to change this. If you would like to find out more about the work we are doing together, visit the British Lung Foundation website.

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