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How Smoking Impacts Your Lungs

If you’ve never smoked, it’s probably difficult to understand why anyone would continue a habit that poses such a danger to your health. Most ex-smokers admit that quitting is one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. Thankfully, many tools exist to help curb the cravings so you can defeat this highly addictive habit.

Benjamin A. Laracuente, MD, is a highly respected pulmonologist serving residents throughout Beaver County, Pennsylvania, including the Pittsburgh metro area, with the most accurate diagnostic testing and effective treatments available in pulmonary medicine.

Dr. Laracuente leads our team here at Tristate Pulmonary Medical Practice in Monaca, where we focus on patient care as well as education about lung health. Read what this talented specialist has to say about the damage smoking does to your lungs and how we can help support your efforts to quit.

Understanding your respiratory system

Your respiratory system is a complex network of structures that work together to supply the oxygen every cell in your body requires to function normally. Your heart, brain, digestive processes, and circulatory system all rely on your lungs to take about 16 breaths every minute. That equals 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, and more than eight million breaths a year.

How does smoking affect my lungs?

Smoking affects your lungs in numerous ways. The cancer-causing agents in the smoke you inhale cause abnormalities in lung tissue that, over time, can develop into cancer. Many other changes associated with smoking also threaten your health. These include:  

Tissue inflammation that leads to scarring

The tissue lining your nasal passages, airways, and lungs become irritated and inflamed as you smoke, which causes these tiny passages to swell and narrow. It also causes increased mucus production that your lungs work hard to expel, which leads to the familiar smoker’s cough and a condition known as chronic bronchitis, which is one of the illnesses included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

As you continue to smoke, the ongoing inflammation creates scar tissue and other physical changes, such as loss of elasticity in the lungs, that make breathing difficult. Smokers often experience wheezing and shortness of breath with the slightest activity and eventually at rest.

Frequent respiratory infections

Lining your airways are tiny hair-like structures called cilia that move freely as you inhale and exhale. This action helps sweep mucus and dirt from the passages so that your lungs stay clear. Smoking temporarily paralyzes and eventually kills the cilia, which greatly increases your risk of infection. If you smoke, even a minor cold can turn into a prolonged illness.

Destruction of the alveoli

Alveoli are the tiny air sacs in your lungs that collect the oxygen you inhale and exchange it for the carbon dioxide you exhale. Smoking eventually causes enough damage to destroy alveoli, which do not grow back. That leads to emphysema.

As it advances, emphysema makes it impossible for your lungs to deliver adequate oxygen to your bloodstream. Medications and supplemental oxygen can help ease the symptoms and slow its progression, but there is no cure for emphysema.

All these conditions can be prevented, and some are even reversible if you quit smoking.

How do I quit smoking?

Smoking is an extremely difficult habit to kick because of the highly addictive nature of nicotine. We do, however, have many effective treatments that can help, including nicotine replacement therapy. Dr. Laracuente may also prescribe medication that reduces your urge to smoke, decreases your withdrawal symptoms, and blocks the effects of nicotine. We also offer many practical tips that help you stay motivated as you quit.

Schedule a visit to Tristate Pulmonary Medical Practice today. We can help with all your pulmonary needs, including treatment for the effects of smoking on your lungs and real support if you’re interested in quitting. 

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