Smoking :: Quit smoking, breathe easier

Lung damage begins early in smokers, resulting in a lower level of lung function in all smokers compared to those who don’t smoke.

Smoking causes lung diseases beside cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 7 million current and former smokers suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the name used to describe both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, with smoking accounting for 80 to 90 percent of COPD cases.

Chronic bronchitis causes the airways to produce more mucus, resulting in increased coughing.

Emphysema is a disease that adversely affects the surface of the lungs, causing less oxygen to reach the blood. Mild cough, fatigue and shortness of breath are some common early symptoms of emphysema.

Those with emphysema are at increased risk for pneumonia. In late stages of the disease, patients must be on oxygen support to breathe comfortably.

Though emphysema can never be reversed, it can be slowed down by quitting smoking. Two weeks to three months after quitting, lung function increases. One to nine months later, coughing and shortness of breath decrease, and cilia (tiny hairs) regain normal function in the lungs, clearing the lungs of mucus and reducing infection risk.

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