How to Clear Your Lungs After Quitting Smoking
You already know that quitting smoking is an excellent choice to make for your health. During the first few weeks, you may experience some quitting related symptoms, such as chest congestion. You may have coughing fits, tightness or mucus in your chest, and a slight hoarseness of your voice.Though it may be uncomfortable at first, chest congestion indicates that your body is beginning to repair itself and recover from your smoking habit.
Dealing with Chest Congestion in the Short Term
Drink lots of fluids, especially water.Drinking water will help your body to combat the congestion by thinning the mucus in your lungs and make it easier to cough up the mucus. It will also keep your body hydrated.
- Tobacco smoke slows the movement of the tiny hairs (known as cilia) that line our lungs and help to remove mucus. When you stop smoking, these hairs become more active and start to clear away the mucus built up in your lungs. This can result in increased coughing for a few weeks after you first quit.
- Drinking orange juice and other natural fruit juices will provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to combat congestion.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, and sodas which can contribute to dehydration as much as possible.
Take a hot shower or bath once or twice a day.Dry air can irritate your lungs and increase your coughing fits. The steam produced from a hot shower or bath can moisten the air passages in your lungs and thin out the mucus.
Sleep with your head elevated.Keep your head angled at 15 degrees by placing one or two pillows directly underneath your head. This will minimize mucus draining into your throat which causes coughing at night.
Try a facial steam.Facial steamers produce similar results outside the shower, directing the steam from hot water directly into your airways and lungs. Pour six cups of hot (almost boiling) water into a bowl. Make a tent over your head with a bath or hand towel. Place your nose and mouth over the bowl and inhale deeply.
- Add three to four drop of eucalyptus oil to the water. Eucalyptus oil has both antibacterial and analgesic properties and acts as an expectorant, loosening phlegm that causes coughing.
- Add a few drops of peppermint oil to the steam to benefit from its soothing menthol agent.
- Professional facial steamers are also available at your local drugstore.
Do a chest rub.Chest rubs, such as Vicks Vaporub, can help alleviate feelings of chest congestion via its menthol properties (the active agent in peppermint). Menthol can also reduce feelings of shortness of breath. Although the benefits from these products can be largely psychological, they can help alleviate the symptoms (but not the cause) of chest congestion.
- Never apply the rub directly under your nose or used on infants or children under the age of 2. The active ingredient in many chest rubs, camphor, can be toxic when ingested.
Take Mucinex.If you don't have any aversion to a pill-based solution, Mucinex will significantly reduce any chest congestion you may suffer from. The medication thins and loosens mucus in the airways, clearing congestion, and making breathing easier.
- Mucinex is designed for temporary relief of congestion and cold-like symptoms. It's important to consult your doctor before you use it to treat smoking-induced congestion or coughing.
Avoid taking cough medicine.Coughing will help to loosen the phlegm from your lungs and will help you recover from chest congestion. Allow your body to cough, and stay away from over-the-counter cough medicines.
Method 1 Quiz
If you use a chest rub, like Vicks Vaporub, remember to:
Reducing Chest Congestion in the Long Term
Ask your doctor about treatment for “smoker’s lung”.Although increased feelings of congestion are typical in the first few weeks after you stop smoking, be aware that any smoking habit increases your risk of “smoker’s lung”, a catch-all term for chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which are associated with a reduction of airflow due to lung damage. Both conditions are associated with coughing and feelings of breathlessness.
- Individuals with smoker's lung experience a combination of symptoms similar to having chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These include chronic coughing, breathlessness, and mucus in your lungs.
- Although treatment for these two conditions may be minor, it’s important to talk to your doctor after quitting smoking about your likelihood of contracting either of these conditions.
- Your doctor may recommend a chest X-ray or a CT scan to exclude other possibilities.
- A lung function test or a blood test may also be necessary to determine other contributors to your condition.
Avoid any exposure to cigarette or cigar smoke.You should also wear a mask when you are working with strong fumes like paint or household cleaners with strong fumes.
- If possible, stay indoors on high air pollution days.
- Stay away from wood stoves and kerosene heaters, which also can emit irritating fumes or smoke.
- If cold air aggravates your cough, wear a face mask before you go outside, particularly during the winter.
Exercise on a regular basis.It’s important to keep your lungs and cardiovascular system in good working order. Your body already begins the repair process as soon as you quit smoking. The more you exercise, particularly after you quit smoking, the more you will help your lungs gain back the capacity they lost while you were smoking.
- A study examining the effects of quitting smoking found some physical improvements after just a week. Eleven young men who smoked about a pack a day for three and a half years were subjected to several tests while on a stationary bike before quitting, and then a week later. The study showed considerably increase in oxygen concentration in the lungs and an extension of exercise time.
Buy a humidifier or vaporizer.Having a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom while you sleep can help you keep hydrated at night and will also help to loosen mucus. Keep the filter clean and the humidifier will minimize the amount of congestion-causing dust in the air.
- Keep the vaporizer and humidifier clean. Every two to three days, clean the filter using a mixture of bleach and water (two tablespoons of bleach per one quart of water). Run the machine until dry (approximately 40 minutes) in a well-ventilated area, away from your bedroom.
Method 2 Quiz
Smoker's lung most refers to:
Soothing Your Throat and Chest Due to Congestion
Gargle warm salt water.The coughing that comes from chest congestion can make your throat scratchy or sore. A saline (i.e. a salty) solution draws excess fluid from inflamed tissues in the throat, soothing them temporarily.
- Dissolve ¼-1/2 teaspoons of salt in an eight ounce glass of warm (not too hot!) water. Gargle for 15-20 seconds and spit out the water.
Drink warm lemon juice and honey.The combination of honey and lemon may help to soothe your throat and help with chest congestion as well. Add honey and lemon juice to hot water or have a teaspoon of honey by itself to soothe your throat.
Add ginger to your diet.Ginger root is a natural anti-inflammatory and may soothe your irritated lungs. Drink ginger tea and add ginger root (not crystallized ginger) to recipes like soups and stir fries. Ginger candies can be an easy way to suppress coughing.
- For an easy ginger tea, thinly slice a thumb-sized piece of ginger and simmer it in hot water for approximately 15 minutes. Add a bit of honey for further throat and chest relief.
Drink peppermint tea.Like ginger, peppermint is a natural expectorant and can help to thin mucus and break up phlegm. Its main active agent, menthol, is a good decongestant and is found in a number of over the counter treatments for chest congestion.
- Adding peppermint to your diet, such as drinking peppermint tea, can help alleviate basic symptoms of chest congestion.
Method 3 Quiz
Why is peppermint a good choice for treating chest congestion?
QuestionHow long does it take to become congested?
Family Medicine PhysicianFamily Medicine PhysicianExpert AnswerIt does not take long to become congested. Sometimes it can happen overnight.Thanks!
QuestionHow do steroids work in clearing congestion?
Family Medicine PhysicianFamily Medicine PhysicianExpert AnswerSteroids are not a good long-term therapy for congestion, as they come with too many side effects.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I tell if I am congested due to quitting smoking or due to other causes?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCongestion from quitting smoking should start soon after quitting. Congestion due to other causes, such a cold, would present other symptoms of illness such as sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, aches and pains, etc. Congestion could also be caused from long-term lung damage from smoking and could start to show signs only after quitting. There is no sure fire way to know whether this is quitting congestion or signs of more serious, long-term lung damage (COPD, tumors, infection). If you have been a heavy smoker for a long time and the congestion is bothersome and lengthy, a visit to a doctor to be sure there are no other problems would be beneficial.Thanks!
How long does it take for the lungs to be clear after quitting smoking?
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What type of exercise should I do?
- Do not take over-the-counter cough suppressants without your doctor's permission.
- Chronic coughing or mucus production for at least three months may be a sign of chronic bronchitis, a chronic inflammatory condition of the lungs, caused by swollen and irritated respiratory passages. If you experience these symptoms, check with a doctor for a diagnosis.
- Keep in mind that you may also experience other side effects after quitting smoking, such as weight gain due to increased hunger, anxiety, depression, sore throat, and/or mouth ulcers.Talk to your doctor if any of the side effects of quitting smoking are interfering with your daily life.
- Consult your doctor if flu-like symptoms persist for more than a month after quitting smoking or if there is blood when you cough.
Sources and Citations
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