Smoking and Respiratory Conditions - A Guide to Stop Smoking

Smoking is responsible for a number of chest complaints which include asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia. It also increases susceptibility to colds, flu and chest infections.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Bronchitis and emphysema are grouped under the term ‘chronic obstructive pulmonary disease’ (COPD). This disease is primarily caused by smoking and is a condition in which the airways to the lungs are blocked which affects breathing.

Sufferers of COPD have either one of these conditions or both together.

Smoking accounts for the vast majority of cases although it can also affect people who work in heavily polluted environments. It is very rare for a non-smoker to be affected.

Bronchitis is a condition in which the airways of the lungs (or ‘bronchi’) become inflamed. These inflamed passageways cause excess mucus to be produced which can damage the lungs.

Symptoms of bronchitis include breathlessness and coughing.

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a long term condition in which the sufferer coughs and/or produces excess mucus over a period of 3 months, and within the last two years.

Emphysema is an equally serious condition in which the air sacs (alveoli) and smaller airways of the lungs have become damaged, usually as result of cigarette smoke.

Symptoms of emphysema include breathlessness and wheezing which are noticeable during physical activity and worsen over time.

Around 90% or more of smokers have some form of emphysema.

COPD affects a million people in the UK each year, but most of the people affected are smokers, especially those who smoke 20 a day or more.

If you smoke and develop COPD then you will notice that you are breathless, have a ‘smokers cough’ and are more prone to chest infections. If you have been smoking for a long time, say 20 years or more than you are at a high risk of developing this condition.

The symptoms of COPD develop over time: if you carry on smoking in spite of this then these will become increasingly worse which then affects your quality of life. You will find yourself become increasingly breathless which reduces your mobility and ability to undertake normal day to day activities.

As the condition becomes more severe it reduces the amount of oxygen to the lungs. This then affects the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream which impacts upon other areas of the body and most noticeable the heart. Your heart needs oxygen to function properly but if this reduced then it can lead to heart failure.

Another side effect of this illness is reduced lung function. Lung function doses decline with age but is even worse for smokers. If you smoke then your lung function will decline much more rapidly than that for a non-smoker.

If you are a smoker who is showing early signs of this disease then the best form of treatment is for you to stop smoking. If you do so then this will stop the disease progressing.

But if you have moderate to severe symptoms of COPD then you will require medical attention. This may include a ‘bronchodilator’ inhaler which works in a similar way to an asthma inhaler; steroid tablets or antibiotics. More severe cases will require oxygen or even surgery.

But prevention is better than cure. This condition is largely caused by smoking so the best advice we can give is to quit smoking.

This equally applies to other similar conditions such as asthma and pneumonia. If you have asthma and smoke then you will find that this increases the likelihood of you having an asthma attack. It can undo the good work done by your asthma medication and could permanently damage the airways to your lungs.

We know that asthma sufferers are aware of the risks of smoking but smoking is highly addictive and difficult to give up. However, many people do manage to stop smoking, including those with asthma so it can be done. There is help available to people who want to give up so make use of it.

Our Stopping Smoking section contains more information about this.

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