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All You Need to Know about Smokers Cough

The Hyfe Mind

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November 9, 2020
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

A man is coughing while smoking

It's no surprise that smokers cough more than non-smokers. And the longer you smoke, the more likely you are to develop a persistent, raspy cough. We take a closer look at the symptoms and causes of smoker's cough, as well as the warning signs of more sinister conditions.

What Is Smokers Cough?

Smoker's cough symptoms are case-by-case, and how it affects an individual may vary. But in general, the main symptoms are a hacky, phlegmy, nagging cough that tends to be worse in the morning and improves during the day. 

Symptoms progress the longer one smokes. During the early stages, the cough is mostly dry, but it may produce sputum later on. Additionally, the phlegm may be colorless, speckled with blood, yellow-green, or brown.

While these aren't the only symptoms, they are the most common. Other symptoms include:

  • Wheezing or a crackling sound when breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Sore throat 

Unsurprisingly, as long as the individual keeps smoking, the cough will continue to worsen. On the other hand, coughing usually subsides within three months of quitting.

Why Do Smokers Cough? 

Essentially, smoke paralyzes cilia which are in charge of moving microbes and debris up and out of the airways. When cilia slow down, toxins settle in your lungs which leads to mucus buildup and consequently - cough, which is your body's way to loosen up the mucus and expel it.

Tiny hair-like cells called cilia line the airways and catch any toxins we inhale. Next, these cells push the harmful substances away from the lungs towards the mouth.

But the cilia don't function correctly and have to work harder to filter toxins if you smoke because the chemicals in cigarettes slow them down. So, they can't remove harmful substances, which then settle in the lungs, causing inflammation. Consequently, it triggers coughing as the body tries to clear the lungs.

The cilia repair themselves when you don't smoke, for example, at night while sleeping. During the night, the cilia work overtime to remove accumulated toxins. That's why smokers cough more in the morning. 

While coughing is more prevalent in smokers, not everyone who smokes will develop a cough. According to a Finnish study, smoker's cough is widespread in long-term smokers. How often one smokes may also contribute. Among the research group, 40% of daily smokers and 27% of occasional smokers had a chronic productive cough. 

What are the Dangers of Smokers Cough? 

Many complications stem from damage to the cilia and the subsequent build-up of chemicals in the lungs. How often one smokes, the severity of the cough and an individual's overall health determine the likelihood of developing complications, such as:

  • Higher risk of respiratory infections
  • Vocal changes or hoarseness
  • Damage to the throat
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer

Cough-specific complications include muscle strain, and in some cases, broken ribs, as well as stress incontinence.

Social Impact of Smoker's Cough

Besides the physical effects, a smoker's cough has many social and emotional implications. And it reaches far beyond disrupting meetings or embarrassment. 

For instance, if coughing impacts sleep, it may affect work productivity and could result in retrenchment. 

Smokers also tend to struggle with physical activities, and coughing fits from vigorous exercise is common.

Moreover, it doesn't only affect the smoker. Family members experience emotional stress out of concern or may suffer from low sleep quality, for example.

How Do You Get Rid of a Smokers Cough?

Unfortunately, the only way to completely get rid of smokers cough is difficult - quitting smoking. Although challenging, it is possible. If you're serious about improving your respiratory health, you can reach out for support from your healthcare provider or join communities to help you through it.

To speed up recovery, you can try the following remedies:

  • Drink water – a lot of it. Water thins out the mucus and makes it easier to cough up, thereby helping the lungs clean faster. You'll breathe better and easier, along with the positive effects hydration has on the entire body.
  • Avoid dairy and stimulants, like coffee – they can create the feeling of mucus in your throat and worsen the cough
  • Use steam – whether you choose a humidifier or a hot shower with the bathroom door closed, steam keeps the moisture in the air, helps mucus production and reduces throat and chest irritation.
  • Exercise – get moving to loosen up mucus which makes it easier to expel.
  • Elevate your head when you sleep – this will help the drainage of mucus from your throat as well as stop the mucus from irritating you in your sleep and making you cough.

Here's a complete list of cough remedies you can try to get rid of your cough quickly.

When to See a Doctor about Smokers Cough

A man having a headache

While a nagging cough is concerning, it's not necessarily deadly. But when you have other symptoms, you should speak to your doctor sooner rather than later. These less severe symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent pain in your throat, chest, or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disruptions

It's also crucial to see your doctor if a chronic smoking-related cough changes in any way.

Some symptoms need urgent medical care. For instance, coughing up blood is a medical emergency because it could cause aspiration. You should seek help right away. Additionally, bloody sputum may indicate lung cancer.

Similarly, pain in the ribs and fainting after coughing could mean something more severe, and you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Do I Have Smoker's Cough?

It's not easy to distinguish a smoker's cough from other cough types or lung conditions such as COPD or cancer. For this reason, tracking your cough and regular medical check-ups are crucial, especially if you or someone in the household smokes.

If you're worried about a cough, it's best to get it checked out.

Smoker's cough is a common complaint, and symptoms won't go away as long as smoking continues. The good news is after a smoker quits, the cilia function often returns to normal. A smoker's cough not only affects long-term health, but it also impacts emotional well-being. Lastly, smokers are more likely to ignore the warning signs of severe lung conditions. In many instances, these have a better outlook if diagnosed early. So, speak to your doctor if you have a cough that lingers, even if you think it's due to smoking. 

Your Cough Matters

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Based on our results in Google Play & App Store
  • Excellent, insightful
    By dust mite dan - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    This app is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing and has provided me with useful information about my cough and disease patterns that have improved my overall health!

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    Impressed with how well it detected my coughs, even very slight ones.
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    by HBert Quach — Jan 22, 2023, - Google Play
    App is great at tracking cough when little ones are sick. I treat it as a early warning indicator before the cold gets back. Customer service is awesome, they actually respond to all my questions.
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    by Christi Hammock — Mar 7, 2023, - Google Play

    I had an issue logging into the new app but I contacted the support team and they were awesome in helping me figure out the issue. It turned out to be a technical issue which they resolved very quickly and I was kept in the loop on the status from start to finish. This app is really helpful when talking to my doctor too..
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  • Impressive app
    By KayakTina - Apr 7, 2023 - App Store
    "The app accurately is recording my coughs with excellent ways to review the results. I can add notes to help me identify patterns or have accurate information for my physicians. I’ve hoped for an app like this for years to help me accurately track the amount of coughing I’m doing"
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  • Accurate count of coughs
    by Beardonna — Mar 8, 2023 - App Store

    Just installed the app. Very accurate measuring coughs so far! Cannot wait to see how much coughing I do while sleeping. I'll have a better picture to discuss with my physician at my next visit.

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